Business

Value of food and drink in Northern Ireland rises to a tasty £4.6 billion says DAERA report

Food and drink sector in NI still growing
Andrew Madden

OUTPUT by Northern Ireland’s food and drink industry increased by 1.1 per cent in 2015 to a tasty value of £4.6 billion, government figures reveal.

But the rise marks a slight slowing of growth when compared to that from 2013 to 2014, when the industry grew by 1.5 per cent.

The figures come in a report from the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, compiled from data on the values of sales, exports, value added and number of employees from all food and drink sectors.

The most valuable markets for the agri-food sector were those of beef and sheep meat, where sales increased by £21 million, and milk and milk products, which grew by £14 million.

Combined, these sub-sectors made up nearly half (49 per cent) of the total gross turnover.

The number of full-time workers directly employed by the food and drink sector also rose to 21,048 in 2015 – marking a 1.6 per cent rise.

The UK remained the region's top export market, with 44 per cent of all of the north’s food and drink going to the UK.

The figure which will attract the most speculation, however, is the chunk of sales which are made up of EU exports - £1.3 billion - which equates to more than a quarter of the total.

With uncertainty in post-referendum UK, questions will rise on whether tariffs may be introduced on goods exported to the EU - possibly leaving Northern Ireland farmers, bakers, fishermen and other producers out of pocket.

Michael Bell, executive director of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association, said the figures were impressive given the current economic climate.

But he called for safeguards to be put in place to protect the food and drink industry from potential Brexit fallout

“It is an impressive set of figures, bearing in mind the challenges the market has faced and the food deflation over the past few years,” he said.

“Brexit will undoubtedly be affect agri-food on this island but the exact impact is yet to be determined.

"But, considering we are the number one exporter to the UK and vice versa, we need to come to a pragmatic and sensible arrangement so that everybody can continue to prosper.”

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