Ulster Unionist MLA for East Antrim Roy Beggs has challenged the Agriculture Minister to provide further details on the amount of investment in the dairy sector locally and how this is co-ordinated within DARD.
At Question Time in the Assembly Roy Beggs asked the Minister of Agriculture, “following the recent disclosure that some €25 million has been invested in a new dairy technology centre at the University of Limerick, which is a collaboration between industry and researchers, to advise what has happened in Northern Ireland under her leadership. In the Republic of Ireland, there is a very clear ambition to significantly increase the dairy sector and invest in practical research that will enable that to happen. Rewards will come to the producer and the manufacturing process industry. Will the Minister give us a figure of what has been invested in Northern Ireland? How has it been coordinated?”
In response, Minister O’Neill said “Over the past 5 years DARD has funded in excess of £4.3m of research with direct practical relevance to the dairy sector through instruments such as the Evidence and Innovation Research programme (7 projects costing £3,109,538), the DARD Research Challenge Fund (7 projects with grant assistance of (955,512) and DARD Post Graduate Studentships (3 studentships with a total value of £175,500 over 3 years). Improving competitiveness in the market place has been a key theme of the research which has been commissioned with improved feed resource efficiency being a focus as this is a key driver of the economic and environmental performance of the dairy sector. Animal health and welfare issues are also being addressed along with work on innovative products and processes.”
Roy Beggs said;
“Northern Ireland’s dairy farmers are going through another period of severe financial challenges and any steps which can help them and the industry need to be fast-tracked. Whilst I welcome the investment from DARD, it still does appear to be entirely piecemeal with little or no strategic direction. Certainly very few farmers that I speak to see the benefits filtering down to them.
“The recent ending of milk quotas was a significant moment for our local dairy farmers. Whilst many across East Antrim are well equipped to fully compete in the new environment, I do have concerns regarding the possibility of excessive volumes of milk from neighbouring EU Member States, not least the Republic of Ireland, potentially driving our prices down further. It’s just yet another danger facing our local sector and an issue that the Minister must proactively address.
“We need to do all that we can to support the dairy sector in Northern Ireland– farming is a key element of our economy and we need to continue to innovate and move forward in order to compete on a world scale. I would also urge entrepreneurs and food processing companies to consider using the facilities at the soon to be opened Food Innovation Centre at Loughry. Developing value added food products from our high quality milk should enable returns to the farmers to improve and lessen the impact of milk price fluxuation.”
Notes for editor – Question code is AQT 2271/11-15 from the 16th March 2014