Belfast Telegraph

Opinion: Food and drink industry staying strong despite the challenges facing the market

By David Dobbin

The recent statistics released by Government show that the local food and drink industry continues to grow strongly.

The industry’s performance over the last decade has been impressive with 10 years of uninterrupted growth, with increase in sales and jobs delivered throughout the most difficult economic period in living memory.

The food and drink sector now provides over 25% of the total manufacturing employment in Northern Ireland with over 100,000 jobs across the food supply chain including farming, processing, packaging and haulage.

It also has the largest external sales of any sector which, when you count in tobacco, accounts for over half of all Northern Ireland’s sales. So it is not just golf where we are world-class — our food sector continues to win numerous national and international awards.

After a very strong 2013, the current year has recently seen dairy, meat and crop prices all tumble with the better weather across the world resulting in bumper output which has led to surpluses and lower prices.

This has been made worse by the strengthening in the value of sterling against the euro and US dollar which has made it more difficult to compete and means less returns as food exports are normally priced in euros or dollars. Most unwelcome has been the Russian ban on EU food exports which will now stop all cheese, butter, meat and pork sales, and further weaken the EU market. These challenges are not new to the sector.

So despite current issues, the industry has the ambition for further growth which should create 15,000 new jobs over the next six years. Career opportunities in agrifood have never been better with demand for a range of skills and qualifications from graduates through to apprenticeships and school leavers who are looking for their first job on the ladder.

And for those who just got their A-level results, our universities and colleges offer excellent degree and further education programmes for those wanting a secure and rewarding career in the sector.

  • Dr David Dobbin CBE is chairman of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association and group chief executive of Dale Farm

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