UFU chief wants recognition for farmers
The president of the Ulster Farmers' Union said he hoped the NI Year of Food & Drink will help promote fairness and transparency in the food industry.
Ian Marshall said: "Northern Ireland has a world class food industry, which farmers play a vital role in, and it deserves to be celebrated.
"Ultimately, farmers are the foundations on which this growing, local industry is built and despite challenges, like unpredictable weather, low farm gate prices and increasing bureaucracy, we continue to produce the top quality raw materials that end up on the plates of consumers and restaurant goers alike."
Mr Marshall added Northern Ireland farmers had to meet strict health and welfare requirements and were part of farm quality assurance schemes so that "we are producing some of the highest quality, safest and most traceable food in the world".
"As we approach the NI Year of Food we would again highlight the issues with the functionality of the supply chain. Farmers work tirelessly to produce high quality food products and they deserve a fair return from the market," he said.
"The UFU will continue to work closely with retailers and the food service sector to look at ways of bringing greater fairness and transparency to the supply chain, and to ensure farmers across all sectors receive a fairer share of the price consumers pay for food."
But an industry expert who attended the event's launch said that farmers were not well represented at it. He said: "From the farmers point of view, I think most of them are still not particularly aware of it. As an industry they might be sceptical of it, thinking that it will be those further up the line who will benefit from it."
Almost 50,000 people are employed across 24,000 farms in Northern Ireland. Last year agriculture brought £450m into the Northern Ireland economy and food and drink processing £720m.
Together, the agri-food industry makes up 5.2% of gross value added (GVA) in Northern Ireland. A figure which compares with just 2.1% in the UK.
Farms in figures:
Number of farms 24,228
Cattle & sheep: 19,091
Other type 199