Belfast Telegraph

Sector's strong values bring stability and innovation to always build for the future

Ahead of the Balmoral Show on Wednesday to Friday next week, Richard Donnan, the NI head of Ulster Bank, reflects on the agri-food industry's importance to our economy

To look at the history of food and drink production in Northern Ireland is to look at an industry that has been at the forefront of disruptive innovation to solve serious issues and create radical opportunity.

The formation of the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS) is an interesting case in point - born in the 1850s, it was formed with a view to improving agricultural methods in the aftermath of the Irish famine - using that hardship as a spur to action, helping build a system and a way of doing things that would be resilient and sustainable for the long-term. Those qualities persist through the organisation today, as we at Ulster Bank have seen as we work in partnership with the RUAS on the Balmoral Show.

Having worked in banking for over 25 years myself I have seen how innovation can deliver real practical benefits to the people that Ulster Bank and the RUAS help. The Balmoral Show is a platform for all that is good about the agri-sector here: a chance for people to socialise, do business and share examples of best practice. It's a chance for them to look at what has changed in their business, see the bigger picture and make changes in response.

Now in its eighth year, our position as principal sponsor of the show has given us privileged access to the insights and expertise of the industry, meaning our products and services are tailored to best suit those we serve. The agri-industry has faced many challenges in recent years - from price volatility through to Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform.

As a bank, we've committed to engaging with the community and providing bespoke support - for example through our dairy toolkit and our consumer insights loan - to help farmers and producers better cope with the challenges, as well as recognising the long-term resilience of those in this community. We share common values with the farming community and are always open to learning and deepening those relationships to provide long-term sustainability.

As we continue to see support for Northern Ireland's Year of Food and Drink, I am reminded of the excellent qualities of our local producers who export internationally, deliver exciting new products and work hard, making up almost half of our manufacturing exports.

Where we have a global comparative advantage in terms of traceability and quality, we should make the most of it and an initiative like this is a way of making sure food and drink are taken seriously at the highest levels. We are proud to play our part.

Having an industrial culture that does not shy away from change, is capable of absorbing shocks, and promotes a learning culture, means that the food and drink sector is promoting values that enhance business stability.

I look forward to seeing many of you there over the three days at the 148th show as we look at ways to ensure this keeps happening in the future.

Belfast Telegraph