Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) President David Brown hosted his first annual dinner as he welcomed over 240 guests to the annual dinner at the Glenavon House Hotel, Cookstown on Friday evening.

In addition to the many members, industry representatives and Northern Ireland (NI) government officials, those who attended included guest speakers, Rt Hon Sir Robert Goodwill MP, Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee and formerly Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and also attending was National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president, Minette Batters.

He said; “The annual dinner is a key event in our calendar and one that everyone looks forward to. It’s a celebration of NI agriculture and enables our UFU members to take time out from the family farm for an evening of entertainment. It also enables us to reflect on the year gone by. We recognise all the challenges that our members endured and the successes, alongside the dedication and commitment of everyone in the industry who we work with to build a more sustainable, resilient and profitable agri-food industry.

“Climate change, TB, energy prices and production costs are still major issues facing agriculture. However, the need for locally produced, high-quality food is more vital now than ever. In November, the United Nations estimated that the world’s population passed eight billion people.

“That works out as an additional 200 thousand people on the planet all in need of food fuel and fibre – every, single day. We as farmers have an opportunity, and a duty, to get the best out of our maritime climate, while also pioneering a sustainable approach to farming, tackling global warming and preserving the land for future generations so they can continue as food producers.

“The Windsor Framework announced in February, was a critical development for NI. It’s extremely positive that progress has now been made on some of the issues that required legislative changes, issues that have been impacting agriculture. While some issues do remain, we’re confident that through improved engagement and constructive discussions, solutions can be found.”

He said farmers were part of an industry and supply chain where 113,000 jobs were involved in the food and drink sector and while there are 1.9m people in Northern Ireland, 25,000 farmers and growers produced enough food for 10m people.

Farmers here produced 2.5bn litres of milk annually, 150,000tonnes of beef, farmed over 1m breeding sheep and supplied 15 per cent of organic eggs to the remainder of the United Kingdom.

However he said consumers rarely saw beyond the supermarket shelf yet farmers and growers around the world will be responsible for feeding a rapidly growing population set to reach 10bn by 2050.

With changing climate and other pressures, he said farmers in Northern Ireland should be pioneers of sustainable farming, saying he took as his theme as President, the slogan, “The Land First.”

If they as farmers looked after the land, they looked after the next generation as well.

He referred to droughts and floods in parts of Europe as well as other areas of the world but said Northern Ireland farmers were in a position to supply high quality food.

Addressing the dinner, Rt Hon Sir Robert Goodwill MP for Scarborough and Whitby said, “Being a regular visitor to NI, I know how good the quality and variety of food produced here is. As a farmer myself, I understand the challenges being faced by our industry as input prices have soared and new post-CAP support mechanisms are introduced. Brexit does present many opportunities for trading our produce around the world.

“However, here in NI, it isn’t always apparent that we yet have the promised best of both worlds with one foot in Great Britain and the other in the European Union single market.

“The Windsor Framework certainly solves some of our problems but there are still outstanding issues that need to be resolved on things like livestock movement. What would certainly help would be the restoration of the administration at Stormont to deliver solutions for the logjam of problems we face.”

Minette Batters, NFU President, responding to the toast to the guests, said as she came towards the end of her Presidency after eight years, during which time she met four Prime Ministers, three of them in the last 12 months, she enjoyed the collective action of the four nations.

On Friday morning the unions representing the four nations held a summit and issued a joint message calling on the UK Government to recognise food security concerns and extend the Energy and Trade Intensive Industry scheme (ETII) to include those sectors of agriculture heavily reliant on energy.

The UK Unions have repeated their demands for energy relief to be extended to agricultural businesses following on from a joint letter written to Secretary of State Grant Shapps MP at the start of March and signed jointly by all four presidents.

Several awards were made after the dinner. The Belfast Telegraph (BT) Cup for outstanding agricultural achievement was awarded to Billy Martin, who for over 65 years, represented farmers through his leadership of numerous organisations including UFU President in 1984-96.

The Mary Wilson Trophy for best overall UFU group performance in 2022 was presented to the Mid Tyrone Group based in Omagh.

This award recognises the group’s outstanding performance in membership recruitment, securing subscription income, and their successful delivery of group meetings and social events throughout the year.

The Cuthbert Trophy was awarded to Ballyclare for retaining the highest percentage of their members in 2022.

The dedication and commitment shown by the group managers and their staff over the year have enabled them to achieve a retention rate of 97 per cent.