World's leading voices in agriculture attend Northern Ireland event
Top agricultural policy makers from around the world are meeting in Northern Ireland this week to discuss the ethics behind free trade and the increasing demands on growing more food for an expanding population.
Around 300 delegates from Canada, USA, Mexico and the EU are attending the 37th North American and EU Agricultural Policy Congress in the Hilton Hotel, Templepatrick, over two days to discuss global agri-food trading.
On the agenda are the controversial TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) negotiations and issues regarding GMOs.
The congress is being hosted for the first time in Ireland by the Ulster Farmers Union and the joint lobby group Copa Cogeca.
Addressing the delegates on day one was Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness who said "only by working in partnership with the industry and across geographical boundaries, can we deliver the full potential of our agri-food sector".
"The north of Ireland boasts a strong, world class agri-food industry which contributes substantially to our local economy. Our farmers are facing challenges, not least the tough global market conditions at this time, but there are also many successes to be proud of," he said.
Ulster Farmers Union president Ian Marshall said: "The event is a reminder that farmers here are not unique in facing the challenge of price volatility, but we can learn from others about how best to tackle this problem.
"Farm lobby organisations are always stronger when they work together, and I am delighted the UFU has played a part in bringing together the biggest players from Europe and North America."
Copa farm lobby group president Martin Merrild said: "A big challenge confronting farmers and agri-cooperatives at the moment is the difficult market situation caused mainly by the Russian embargo since August 2014.
"They lost their main export market worth €5bn (£3.6bn) overnight. Milk prices were down by as much as 35% in some regions and I know that Northern Ireland has been particularly hard hit by declining milk prices.
"Pork prices are also 20% down on previous levels.
"The aid package agreed by the EU in autumn to alleviate the bad situation hitting EU farmers and agri-cooperatives will help but it's not enough to have a noticeable impact.
"We need additional measures to support the sector and a strong export strategy.
"Copa and Cogeca support the current TTIP talks as long as key conditions are met.
"We need to tackle red tape and non-tariff barriers to trade and also get a better deal on market access, especially on beef where it is particularly challenging.
"We also need to cut red tape under the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which stifles innovation.
"TTIP is a risk but we must ensure European farmers receive a good deal in the current negotiations."