Belfast Telegraph

Agri-food marketing body 'must be priority'

By Joanne Sweeney

The farming industry has reiterated calls from a Queen's University academic for the Executive to push ahead with creating a new marketing body for Northern Ireland's agri-food industry.

Agri-food expert Stephane Durand has also warned the Executive that time is running out to support for farmers and food producers here.

A single organisation dedicated to promoting the region's agri-food producers and food artisans was recommended in the 2013 Going for Growth report from the Northern Ireland Agri-Food Strategy Board.

Mr Durand is a director of the Agri-Food Quest Competence Centre (AFQCC) at Queen's, which was established in May this year by Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Deti) at a cost of £6.7m.

Mr Durand, who is also the former head of innovation at Moy Park, told the Belfast Telegraph: "The frustrating thing is that the whole plan is already there with the Going for Growth report.

"Government has responded to the sector, and confirmed that it was going to work closely with the strategy board.

"So it's not the fact that Government has not pledged support or funds, but that it's far too slow.

"One example is the creation of a marketing body which would require quite hefty investment.

"This is something that has been done in the south for many years with Bord Bia, and still the marketing board for Northern Ireland is not yet formed.

"While I'm sure it will happen, these things take too much time and time is what the farmers and the industry do not have."

Mr Dourand's call is supported by UFU president Ian Marshall.

He is hopeful the new marketing board will be in place sometime next year.

"There is a level of frustration in the industry at the lack of progress, but I understand that it is happening but the due process is taking time," he said.

"We have a lot going for us as a food region and we need to promote ourselves and sell ourselves and take some things out of Bord Bia's book, and indeed the Scotland Food and Drink campaign.

"We have something unique to offer; good quality, assurance and one of the most robust traceability systems in the world."

Industry leaders are also supporting the development of the marketing organisation promised in the 2013 recommended by the Northern Ireland Agri-Food Strategy Board.

The Going for Growth strategy report - which called for investment both by the industry sector and government - estimated a potential 15,000 new jobs being created by 2020.

The aim of the organisation is to "consolidate all marketing and promotional activities with a clear food promotions strategy."

Belfast Telegraph