Food sector growth faces challenges, says UFU

UFU president Barclay Bell
UFU president Barclay Bell

The Ulster Farmers’ Union has warned that the rate of growth is slowing down compared to previous years as some farmers, who underpin the industry, have been losing money for two years.

Welcoming a report showing the continuing importance of the food industry to the local economy, UFU president Barclay Bell, said gauaranteeing access to markets post-Brexit was crucial.

“We cannot ignore the reality that the farmers who supply the raw materials on which the industry has built its quality image are suffering badly – and in most sectors have been losing money since 2014,” he said.

“This is not sustainable – and it is not the foundation we need to have for a successful food industry.”

Despite the growth of the overall agri-food sector, beef and lamb farmers, and dairy farmers have suffered heavy losses in recent years Mr Bell said.

“Continuing support for farmers is a big issue – but market access is just as great a challenge. Without that we will not have markets for our food, and that would disastrous for farmers, processors and the entire Northern Ireland economy.”

“The weakening of the pound in recent weeks will improve the competitive position of the industry and farmers.

“While there are opportunities, Brexit does pose a huge challenge for the entire industry so it will be important that we work together and tackle it with a collective voice.

“As farmers we are immensely proud of what the industry does with the quality raw material that comes off farms. But we are realistic enough to know that the food chain can only succeed if everyone in it is profitable. That is not the case for farmers now.”