Northern Ireland’s farming community is embracing carbon neutrality and producing the best food in the world, Stormont’s Agriculture Minister has said.

Edwin Poots was speaking at the opening of the Balmoral Show, the main event in Northern Ireland’s agricultural calendar, which is returning after a gap of almost two-and-a-half years due to Covid.

His party colleague, First Minister Paul Givan, said the very fact that the show is able to go ahead was a sign of “normality coming back”.

Speaking on the first morning of the four-day event taking place near Lisburn, Mr Poots said: “It’s great to be at the Balmoral Show again and we are absolutely delighted that the organisers, in conjunction with the Department of Health and the PHA, are putting on the show.

“Normally over 100,000 people gather for this event, many visitors come from other places and it is a showcase for Northern Ireland agriculture and agri-food products and we have the best in the world.

“We have the best products in the world and we want to be selling those at an optimum market price.

“One of the things that agriculture is embracing is the carbon neutrality issue and they are wanting to embrace the whole climate change agenda and ensure that the food that we are producing is amongst the best in the world in terms of its carbon outputs.”

Mr Poots continued: “The food that Northern Ireland has is the best that is available whether it is for food provenance, traceability, animal welfare, environment, that is a course of work that we are involved in with the agriculture community and the agri-foods processing sector.

“It is fantastic to see the innovation that exists, the opportunities that are available and the willingness of people to embrace the change that is coming our way.”

While the Balmoral Show has returned, numbers were down on previous years due to the strict coronavirus guidelines around the event.

All ticket holders must show proof of full vaccination or a negative Covid test and visitors were advised to book their ticket in advance as no tickets are available to buy on arrival at the venue.

Face masks must be worn at all indoor events and exhibitions.

Mr Givan said: “It is a delight to be here, it is another sense of normality coming back. It has been over two years since the show has been able to take place and I know the exhibitors are delighted. We have over 300 exhibits taking place.

“It is fantastic that we have been able to get this show back and I know that everybody is really excited about the next number of days.”

Finance Minister Conor Murphy said the return of the Balmoral Show could give a boost to the local agri-food sector.

He said: “It’s great to see it back, I’ve been coming to the Balmoral Show for many, many years and it has always been a wonderful affair. These shows are always a great opportunity for people to do business but also for the social side of things.

“I think it is a much-needed boost for farming and agri-foods. It raises hopes and optimism because it is a very, very challenging time.

“It is good to showcase the excellent farming system that we have here and the product that people are involved in creating.”