Agri-business has been through significant change in recent years. Operating in a more globalised market has meant responding to larger pressures of supply and demand, as we have seen in the milk industry for example.
But not all of these changes are solely negative — the depreciation of sterling, while impacting on imports, has provided a significant boost to the price competitiveness of goods that we sell in the eurozone — and given that our largest export market in Northern Ireland is the Republic of Ireland, that has provided some signs of
the opportunities that are available for Northern Ireland’s producers.
There are some grounded and realistic reasons for optimism. Although it sometimes doesn’t feel like it, Northern Ireland is blessed with a climate to produce good, high-quality food from grass, and sells produce to highly-sophisticated local food processors who in turn have good routes to market.
We have well-trained, business-focused young farmers from our agri-colleges. The industry is supported by government and industry bodies like CAFRE, and is recognised as being a core part of our economy.
The agri-food sector is very resilient in the face of changes in commodity price fluctuations.
In part, the resilience has been built up because of an increased integration of technology with this proud heritage of support and interest in the agri-sector.
Newly established discussion groups are helping young farmers share ideas and best practice. Technology is improving the logistics of tasks like re-seeding, grassland management, herd and soil health checks, and is having an impact on longer-term financial planning — enabling farmers to manage debt and plan their investment in a cyclical industry, as well as fix their costs when dealing with global markets as a form of risk management.
The Balmoral Show is an event where heritage and technology are on display, and everyone can get a good look at some of the future possibilities of farming and food production in Northern Ireland. Businesses like Crawfords of Maghera and LA Richardson & Sons are good examples of the kind of dynamic businesses that are going to be represented, and Ulster Bank is pleased to be centrally involved with the Show as it moves to a four-day format
With around 100,000 people in employment supported by the food and drink sector supply chain, there are really important reasons for us as a bank to encourage collaboration, interaction and the sharing of best practice.
It’s for this reason that the Balmoral Show is a special event that renews and strengthens the bonds of rural communities across Northern Ireland.
It’s a way that we at Ulster Bank feel we can provide really meaningful help for what matters to our customers.
Cormac McKervey is senior agriculture manager at Ulster Bank