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Farm Business Improvement Scheme: Business Development Groups

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Keith Buchanan Keith Buchanan DUP 3:15 pm, 7th November 2016

T2. Mr K Buchanan asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs for an update on how the Department plans to open up and allow more dairy and pig farmers to join the discussion groups under the farm business improvement scheme. (AQT 427/16-21)

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

The Member and many others in the House will know that, on 27 October, the Minister announced that the farm business improvement scheme's business development groups would reopen to dairy and pig farmers in the middle of November. The business development groups bring farmers together to share knowledge and skills to help them to make informed decisions about adopting new technologies and developing their businesses. This additional tranche is aimed at dairy and pig farmers because, as the House will know, farm-gate prices for both sectors have been below the cost of production for a significant time. Further details on the reopening of the business development groups scheme will be published in the coming weeks and will be made known through the farming and agriculture press.

Photo of Keith Buchanan Keith Buchanan DUP

I thank the Minister for his answer. Many pig farmers will welcome the news. Does he agree that the pork industry welcomes the efforts made by the Minister, who is visiting China, on their behalf to open new markets for Northern Ireland?

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

The Minister is in very regular contact with the pork industry and is aware of its export aspirations. She is working very hard on an ongoing, regular basis to target access to key strategic markets, including her mission to China. She is there at the moment, which is why she is not here. She gets to go to China, and I get to come here and talk to you. The world is ill divid, I think. She is there, of course, to promote the best of what Northern Ireland has to offer and to help to move forward the final approval for export of Northern Ireland pork to China — and a very lucrative market it is anticipated to be. There are estimates that it could be worth an additional £10 million to the pork industry in Northern Ireland. Given where prices have been for some time, that would be a most welcome boost to the industry here in Northern Ireland.

Prior to leaving on her mission to China, the Minister met the chief executive of the Northern Ireland Pork and Bacon Forum, who indicated that the industry was very supportive of her mission, as am I, not just generally but particularly in my role as Economy Minister. It is incredibly important that we begin to look beyond not just our own region and the British Isles but well beyond Europe, particularly to strong and emerging markets such as China. That is particularly true for the agri-food sector, for which there are huge opportunities in markets such as China and elsewhere.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

Mr Edwin Poots is not in his place. Question 4 has been withdrawn.