Collaboration to overcome challenges in the food chain and to maximise the potential of local businesses to succeed in markets like China should be a key focus for Northern Ireland’s agri-food sector, according to a leading figure in the industry.

Dunbia Chief Executive, Jim Dobson, was speaking today at one of the Balmoral Show’s flagship events, the Ulster Bank lunch in the main marquee.

He said that members of the food chain in Northern Ireland should be working together to help solve mutual challenges. He also said that there should be considered cooperation with the Republic of Ireland to pool resources and take advantage of synergies in an effort to enable both industries to better target lucrative global markets, including the US and the Middle East.

Mr Dobson, who leads a business with an annual turnover of £800million and more than 4,000 employees, joined speakers at the event including the Minister for Enterprise Trade and Investment, Jonathan Bell MLA, and Ellvena Graham, Head of Ulster Bank Northern Ireland.

He pointed out that solutions to the challenges facing Northern Ireland’s agri-food sector would come from increased levels of internal cooperation in the industry.

He continued: “Members of the local food supply chain rely on each other to stay in business, and as we face similar challenges, it makes sense for us to work together to solve them. Our competition is not with each other, but with other countries who are trying to be ahead of the game in a fast-moving market. To be successful, we need to make sure we are, and are perceived to be, promoting all aspects of our food chain as best in class.”

“As well as the home market, exports are key to our agri-food industry, with new and potentially lucrative markets opening up in the US, the Middle East and China. Considered collaboration with the Republic of Ireland to maximise our common interests in opening up new markets, must therefore be on the agenda going forward,” Mr Dobson points out.

Ulster Bank Head of Northern Ireland, Ellvena Graham, said: “Ulster Bank has made £1.5billion available to lend to businesses this year, and agri-food is a significant target area. The sector has no doubt had challenges over the past 12 months, primarily in relation to exchange rates. Yet the fundamentals of strong demand and excellent produce remain. I have no doubt that with companies of the calibre of Dunbia, and other businesses in this room today, Northern Ireland’s agri-food sector can and will continue to succeed at home and overseas. Ulster Bank is determined to play its part in helping these businesses to grow and succeed.”