5 May 1995

Men of Ulster link with food industry to improve image

ULSTER arable farmers are working with the food industry in a bold new initiative to improve food marketing in the province.

The Ulster Arable Society aims to foster better understanding throughout the food chain. Its membership already includes producers, processors, researchers, lecturers, technologists, advisers and the service sector.

Such wide-ranging discussion is vital if the provinces farmers are to remain competitive as the food industry seeks more contractual arrangements, explains chairman and local Zeneca manager Raymond Hilman.

Whether farmers like it or not, vertical integration, which creates a stronger link between producers, processors and retailers, is coming, warns Mr Hilman.

"Its as important as GATT or CAP." Farmers must now find out what the food industry wants and explain what they can supply.

"In some areas we are being left behind already because they are sourcing produce from elsewhere."

He argues that a better understanding will help overcome an inherent reluctance to accept contracts and problems of growers reneging on them in good years. "We need to understand each other better, so we can take a longer term view of relationships."

The society also aims to develop a united response to consumer demands. "Weve got to discuss consumer attitudes, from animal welfare right through to residues, so we can defend our technology and educate the public, or adopt corrective measures as an industry if necessary," explains publicity officer and DANI variety specialist Ethel White.

Membership currently stands at 120, with a target of 250. Conferences, informal meetings and farm and processor visits are the main activities, with a marketing award planned. Details from: Dr Eric Long, UAS Secretary, Greenmount College, Antrim BT41 4PU (01849-462114).

&#8226 Formed in November 1994.

&#8226 120 members, 40% farmers.

&#8226 Aims to improve relationship between farmers, food processors and retailers.

&#8226 Informal discussions, site visits and award planned.

&#8226 Membership £15/year.