In his address at Loughry Agricultural College prize-day last week, Mr James A Young, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, com-mended on the changes which had taken place in the agricultural industry during the past few years.
He referred to the development and use of chemicals such as selective weed killers, mechanisation, the need to use business methods and business approach to the management of farms including the proper use of farm accounts.
He pointed out that by 1985 it was calculated that the number of full-time farmers in Northern Ireland might fall to between 12,000 and 15,000.
Mr Young said that a major change in the agricultural industry had been the increase in the extent to which food products had been processed and packaged before being offered for sale. This applied particularly to Northern Ireland, he said, where 20,000 people were employed in food processing and supply industries.
“Each year we send about £90 million worth of agricultural produce to Great Britain and elsewhere,” he stated. “As well as the more obvious things such as eggs, bacon, apples, beef, lamb and seed potatoes, this produce includes canned, powered and crisp potatoes, cheeses, yogurt, chocolate crumb, creamed rice puddings and so on. Emphasis in future will be on more sophistication of processing to give the housewife what she wants.”
He explained: “Take meat and bacon for instance. There are at present four meat plants and nine bacon factories in Northern Ireland. From the meat plants carcase beef as sides or quarters go mainly to Great Britain. Boxed boneless beef goes to the United States of America and canned meat products to various overseas countries. Boxed edible offals such as oxtails and ox tongues are sold on a number of markets.
“By-products from the meat industry such as hides are a valuable source of income to Northern Ireland and overall the plants provide worthwhile employment. There are 3,000 personnel in meat plants, abattoirs and bacon factories.”
Mr Young said that quality and hygiene control of food products was necessary if the consumer was to be satisfied.
“The Minister of Agriculture carries out research into food processing, provides advice on hygiene and quality control and, where appropriate, exercises a degree of control over the production and processing of food from start to finish.”