orchard in northern ireland

An orchard in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland's fresh produce industry has been urged to grow its turnover 76 per cent (£390 million)by 2020 in a new government report.

The Going for Growth report, which was produced in co-ordination with Northern Ireland's Agri-FoodStrategy Board, has also challenged growers of fruit and vegetables to increase employment figures by 44 per cent over the next seven years, translating to 2,900 new staff across the industry.

The Agri-Food Strategy board, chaired by food processor Tony O’Neill,claims that as a result of the report, which has made 118 recommendations, several of the country's biggest food and drink companies have pledged to invest £1.3 billion in growth projects over the seven-year period.

O'Neill is positive about the future of Northern Ireland's fresh produce industry. He explained:“Our aim is to transform the agri-food industry into one driven by a world class business approach within a single and fully integrated support chain focussed on the needs of customers in our international markets. Our primary producers and processors will be working closer than ever towards sustainable profitability across the supply chain.'

Food is currently Northern Ireland's single biggest manufacturing industry, employing over 100,000 people.

O'Neill added: “We are convinced and confident the actions in the plan, when fully implemented by government, including funding of around £400 million, and industry, will enable us to exploit the quality, taste and provenance of our food and drink to harness the huge global opportunities now developing strongly for our produce.'

Some of the report's key recommendations include:growing food and drink industry sales by 60 per cent to £7bn, a 75 per cent increase in export sales to£4.5bn, anda review of how research for the arable crops and production horticulture sectors is prioritised and funded.