The production and processing of food plays a critical role in the Northern Ireland economy. The sector is a key contributor to Northern Ireland trade balances as it a net exporter of finished meat products and milk. This is further supported by the contribution of distribution, packaging and retail to the economy.

Northern Ireland is proud of its agri-food heritage. the sector is predominantly grass based with a strong legacy of fine crop and
animal rearing with an emphasis on great quality and resilience. The management of disease has always been of foremost importance and the sector understands its significance to society in general.

In 2008 Matrix produced a foresight study examining the agri-food sector in Northern Ireland as it faced the challenges of a globalised and changing world. It looked to the role Northern Ireland could play, as a specialist player, in the global food market.

The panel is currently carrying out a scoping report to determine whether it should undertake a new study for 2019.

Did you know…?

  • The total gross turnover of the Northern Ireland food and drinks processing sector is estimated to have increased by 2.6 per cent in 2017 to £4,478 million; an increase of £113 million.
  • Between 2016 and 2017, seven of the subsectors in the food and drinks processing sector experienced an increase in their gross turnover and three experienced a decrease. The largest increases are estimated to have occurred in the beef and sheepmeat (+£40.9m) and milk and milk products (+£23.5m) subsectors. The largest decreases are estimated to have occurred in the pigmeat (-£8.0m) and eggs (-£3.7m) subsectors.
  • The food and drinks processing sector is estimated to have recorded a 4.8 per cent increase in the total number of direct full-time employee equivalents employed from 22,413 in 2016 to 23,479 in 2017. In addition, an estimated 2,586 full-time employee equivalents were sourced from Employment Agencies in 2017, slightly lower than the revised figure of 2,599 for 2016.

Previous reports

For the 2008 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 was 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.


Research publications

Below is a selection of the reports used to research this project. If you would like to see all Agrifood related reports, please visit the library.


Evidencing the Bioeconomy

This report presents findings around growth and productivity based on a comprehensive review of the literature and interviews with selected academic and industry experts in the bioeconomy of the United Kingdom.


Lay of the Land

The RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission Northern Ireland Inquiry produced this report which sets out the context of the inquiry, its findings, some signposts to the future, and some recommendations for the way ahead.


Europe AgriFood Tech Investing Report 2018

In this inaugural European food tech and agtech startup report in collaboration with F&A Next, Agfunder details the $1.6bn of funding across 421 deals. While this was on par with the total in 2017, there was 23% growth in the number of deals and the majority of activity took place at the earliest stages.

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