Agriculture minister Edwin Poots has said there is enough food in Northern Ireland to feed the city of London and that it is important the supply chain is maintained during the coronavirus pandemic.
e said the effect of members of the public panic-buying over the last number of weeks has proved challenging as the workforce falls but demand rises.
"Numbers are down 10% in the workforce and demand is up so that's a very challenging position," he said, speaking to the BBC's Good Morning Ulster.
"The truth is that there is loads of food in Northern Ireland, we produce enough food to feed the city of London not just Northern Ireland and we will keep doing that as long as we keep processing it."
He said the farming sector is continuing to produce dairy and meat products but processing is proving more difficult due to shortfalls in staff.
"Aside from that, many of the factories wouldn't have been operating more than two metres apart so that's proving difficult for the factories to implement," he said.
The minister said he hopes a new protocol for working practices, produced by Public Health England and based on World health organization recommendings, will be implemented by factories with the agreement of unions and the food chain will continue.
He called for business to take the challenges seriously. "Ultimately this problem is going to last for months," he said, adding a time may come where mechanics are seen as key workers in order to keep the food and medicine supply chain on the road.
"We need to keep that chain going, that keeps food on our shelves, medicine in our cupboards, is supported and helped to engage in their work.
"I've never seen a situation where things are as fluid as they currently are."
Responding to remarks made earlier in the week by the First and deputy First Minister which indicated manufacturing and construction businesses would be shut down if they did not comply with social distancing guidance, Mr Poots said he didn't believe this was the way forward.
"I don't believe that enforcement is the way, we need to be working with people to get the right outcomes. It's incumbent upon us to work with these companies and make sure the food ends up on the public's table," he said.