Sowing the seeds of growth
Agri-food industry is 'ready for business' insists minister
Investing in and promoting the agri-food sector in Northern Ireland will result in swifter and more long-term financial benefits than other headline-grabbing economic initiatives, according to the agriculture minister.
In 2010 the agri-food sector brought in £3.7bn - a rise of 8.3% on the previous years, despite tightening belts and straitened times.
The industry supports more than 55,000 jobs and last year, a manifesto published by the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association proposed a plan for the creation of 15,000 new jobs in the sector.
Minister Michelle O'Neill said partnerships between the government departments - particularly the enterprise and finance committees - and targeting export markets are key to success.
"All the other initiatives aimed at revitalising the economy are years in development, for instance things like lower corporation tax or investment in higher education, it will be 10 years at least from the point of investment to see a return and the construction sector will take years to recover," she said.
And the minister added: "The agri-food sector is well established and ready for business."
She said that the support industries which benefit from even the simple purchase of a pack of sausages mean the agri-food sector is one of the biggest pillars of the economy here.
"I visited a sausage factory not long ago," she said. "The local apple supplier, the person who grows the herbs, the people who manufacture the machinery, there are many local businesses who benefit.
"Not so long ago the farming industry in Northern Ireland was being written off, but it is an industry which is constantly adapting and diversifying.
"A lot of farmers who had applied for rural development grants to diversify away from farming have changed their minds."
The amount of money brought in by the agri-food sector in 2010