Belfast Telegraph

Pride and passion common denominators at Balmoral Show

I had the pleasure of attending the Balmoral Show last week. I'm always struck by the diversity of the agri-food sector.

Llamas, tractors, sheep shearing, craft, candy, religion, Ulster Bank everywhere, rubber mats, duck sausage with chilli and ginger, government, Farmers Journal, fencing, "grown here, not flown here" and tea.

I spent a very enjoyable few hours over lunch with David Thompson of Thompson's Tea who told me everything about tea with pride and passion – the common denominators at Balmoral.

Passion and pride for their produce, product or service. And it is infectious.

Did you know that the agri-food sector sustains almost 100,000 jobs in Northern Ireland and is responsible for something like £4.4bn in sales? That there are 400 food and drink processing companies in Northern Ireland? Did you know that there are 14m chickens, 1.8m sheep, 1.6m cattle, 425,000 pigs?

It is Northern Ireland's largest manufacturing sector and it is finally getting the credit it deserves. The report 'Going for Growth' by the Agri-Food Strategy Board is setting out some very interesting goals for the next few years, including growing the sector to £7bn.

I know all of that because I also had the pleasure of listening to Owen Brennan, chief executive of international business Devenish Nutrition, and a member of the Agri-Food Strategy Board, at the show's Ulster Bank lunch.

He laid out the opportunities in the agri-food sector:

* Global food demand will double by 2050

* Compound feed tonnes have grown in China from 1m tonnes in 1986 to 160m in 2006. If you would continue that growth rate...

* Annual growth requirement for diary is the equivalent of New Zealand's output over the next 10 years.

To finish with Mr Brennan's closing remarks: "Agri-food is the opportunity of a lifetime. However, the opportunity of a lifetime must be taken in the lifetime of the opportunity."

And he is right.

According to Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail and Free, the 'making' industry (which includes agri-food) is following the same trend and growth curve as software and ICT, 3D printing, economy of scale on small batches and local as the new black.

Chris and Owen should have tea together.

Belfast Telegraph