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2008 Agri-Food Report

For the Agri-Food Report, the Panel took direction from ‘Vision 20/20’, the industry’s Foresight exercise, identified and built on our capacity and capability for world class science, knowledge, technology, innovation and business exploitation, to forge a collaborative framework, tools and

environment, that will be crucial for delivering future opportunities.

Challenges, as well as a spectrum of opportunities, were identified in the SMART and integrated application of knowledge, science and technology in Health, Production and Waste, and Energy.

The substance of the report drew on extensive input from retailers, local and international food processors, exporters, primary producers, researchers, government and many, many others. In particular, the industry panel appreciated the contribution of representatives from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Invest NI, Queen’s University, the University of Ulster and the Agri-food and Biosciences Institute.

The Agri-food Horizon Panel report provides the basis for Northern Ireland to achieve specialised global leadership in its quest to secure a safe, clean and healthy future for the industry and our society as a whole.

Agri-food is important to Northern Ireland and the areas of focus and leadership are well within the grasp of Northern Ireland Agri-food. The recommendations in this report seek to create an ‘eco-system’ for agri-food whereby Northern Ireland can look to collaborate in the focus and leadership areas to create an evolving knowledge based specialist sector, which can be a reference point for the global sector.

A multidisciplinary opportunity

The key message from an analysis of the range of opportunities in the sector is that there are a broad range of scientific and technology capabilities necessary to achieve success and these capabilities are spread across different sectors. Clearly, it is the ability of this sector to develop and exploit the overlap of these capabilities that creates the environment for Northern Ireland to further develop the Agrifood sector.

The focus areas for Northern Ireland Agri-foods

In adopting a multidisciplinary approach to Agri-food opportunities, the panel developed the 20/20 Vision through to eight focus areas:

Creating leadership positions for Northern Ireland

The panel concluded that the key to success for a region the size of Northern Ireland is to focus on areas where there is the potential for international leadership in research that feeds into global food markets.

The focus areas described above are too broad to create sufficient focus for leadership positions. Therefore, these focus areas have been further refined into five leadership areas for Northern Ireland to be underpinned by framework conditions to achieve long term success within the sector. These leadership areas have been selected because they allow Northern Ireland create market growth in a developing aspect of the global agri-food sector and can also be used to spearhead the development of the sector.

Key recommendations

The analysis of capabilities across the sectors reviewed within the capabilities study for Northern Ireland resulted in the identification of key capabilities required to deliver real benefits to the agri-food sector. The mechanisms that need to be taken for Northern Ireland in a set of specific actions that based on the identified capabilities, will address the focus areas and develop the leadership positions thereby achieving the economic benefits. The actions to be taken are:

Given that Northern Ireland is a net importer of agri-food knowledge (scientific and technological) there is a need for greater focus on gaining access to knowledge and sharing it across the sector. This can be facilitated by the establishment of expert networks.
There is insufficient exploitation of the existing science and technology base. The recommendation indicates the need for the establishment of a Northern Ireland integrated investment programme (NI3P) based on five major initiatives. It is anticipated that these initiatives would be set up as opportunities for the universities, AFBI and industrial organisations to bid for funding.

  • A regional initiative to establish a R&D hub of international standing which will specialise in the cradle-to-grave development of foods, using Life Science techniques to produce nutritional solutions10 functional foods that can be customised to individual needs and produce vitality protein products that are focussed on premiumisation, beyond Health and the Convenience markets. the proposal formed must included two industrial partners resident in northern ireland and two industrial partners that are not resident in northern ireland;
  • The establishment of an R&D centre of international standing (involving at least two international partners) specialising in the development of traditional processing and materials skills to produce innovative processes and packaging mechanisms to meet the requirements of enhanced shelf life, consumer convenience and safety;
  • The development of knowledge-based toolsets for the agri-food industry;
  • The exploitation of Northern Ireland Computational Science capability for the agri-food industry;
  • The development of the exploitation of the multifunctional feature of the agri-food industry to improve farming productivity. this theme should focus on how multiple products can be created from land in the same year and look to items such as alternative Energy Sources, water management, the reduction of the farming carbon footprint and an increase in biodiversity.
Much of the near to market research that exists in universities and research centres could benefit the SME base and be exploited for commercial gain. However, there are specific difficulties in creating effective collaboration between SMEs with limited resources (particularly for research) and universities focused on longer term research issues that cannot be easily addressed within the proposed approach in recommendation

Based on the research conducted in the region, it is apparent that the culture and capability of UU or QUB should be more broadly used to replicate the capability (at an appropriate scale) and their culture at a number of industry (SME) focused centres. These centres would be tasked with focussing on developing particular expertise in functional foods, advanced materials and packaging, the use of ICT toolsets to advance the supply chain, food markets and energy utilisation.

While developing expertise in specific areas, these centres should seek to develop a close relationship with companies in their locality and if necessary refer them to another centre more suited to meeting their needs. Their activities in this last respect will be supported by business development specialists from Invest NI with a background in the respective areas.

Building on the existing initiatives supported primarily by DARD and ensuring greater integration and collaboration between food producers and across the broader agri-food sector.

The focus here is on creating collaborative networks between various companies that have complementary knowledge, skills and technologies.

There are particular elements of the framework conditions that must be addressed to ensure an effective foundation for exploitation of the science and technology base within agri-food.

Focus within the framework conditions should address:

  • Improved Regional Collaboration mechanisms
  • Skills Development to meet Future Sector needs
  • Stimulation and Support of University Spin-offs
  • Effective Intellectual Property infrastructure.

The panel

Clare Passmore

Attune Womenswear

Clare Passmore

Clare Passmore is currently a freelance research advisor and founder of Attune Womenswear. Clare has over 20 years experience in healthcare research and development, including senior management positions in the pharmaceutical industry.

Chris Gibson

Foyle Food Group

Dr Chris Gibson was Managing Director UK of Golden Vale Plc, responsible for a staff of 750 and a turnover of £250m. Since his retirement, he has continued to be involved in business as Chairman of the Foyle Meat Group Ltd and Wilson’s Country Ltd and as a Director of Independent News and Media (NI).

John Gilliland


Dr John Gilliland, OBE FRSA FRAgS is a Non Executive Director of SAC Commercial Ltd and Director of Agriculture for Devenish Nutrition Ltd. He is highly respected and recognised as an excellent participant and communicator in the agri food and sustainable land management sectors.

John McLenaghan

Just Farm Energy

John McLenaghan has been involved with the Ulster Farmers Union for a number of years, has sat on the UFU Board and is a past Chairman of the Poultry Committee. He is currently Chairman of the Environment committee.

Jon Woolven


Jon Woolven is Strategy & Innovation Director at IGD, responsible for promoting and nurturing new initiatives and for developing cutting edge insight. IGD is a research and training charity that helps the food industry to deliver the needs of the public.

Ken Baird

Moy Park

Dr Ken Baird is a consultant in food safety and technology and was Technical Director of Moy Park Ltd. He is a member of the advisory board of the Northern Ireland Centre for Food and Health (NICHE) at University of Ulster and of both the Food Safety Promotion Board and of the Scientific Advisory Committee of safefood.

Maurice Johnston

Dale Farm

Maurice Johnston provides consultancy services to food and drink companies. He has previously worked for Kestrel Foods, Dale Farm, Bass Ireland and Coca-Cola Bottlers and has over 20 years experience in the food and drinks industry.

Mike Mills

Jigsaw Tree

Mike Mills is the Chairman of Jigsaw Tree. He is also a Director of Ulster Bank. Previously, he was Chief Executive Officer of Ulster Carpet Mills.

Colin Coffey


Colin Coffey is Director of Digital Venture Group Ltd and an IoD Chartered Director.

Sydney Neil


Dr Sydney Neill is Deputy Chief Executive in the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI). He joined (DARD) Veterinary Sciences Division in 1974 and was appointed AFBI Deputy Chief Executive on the institute’s formation in 2006.

Frank Kee


Currently directs the UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health Research (NI) and is Deputy Director for the Centre for Public Health in Queens University.