Organisations involved: Agrisearch; ABP UK; Dale Farm; Devenish Nutrition; Dunbia; Finnebrogue Artisan; Foyle Food Group; LacPatrick Dairies (NI); Lakeland Dairies (NI); Linden Foods; WD Meats; Hewitt Meats; C&J Meats.

Research Organisations: AFBI and QUB (Belfast).

Project Team: Steven Morrison, Nigel Scollan, Jason Rankin and John Gilliland

Background:

The Northern Ireland food and drinks sector is worth over £4.4 billion (DAERA, 2016). Exports are a key feature of the agri-food with approximately 75% of produce leaving Northern Ireland. The global context for agriculture, food and bioeconomy is changing rapidly presenting both challenges and opportunities over the next 20-30 years.    

Our “consumer-driven society” continues to rapidly evolve and the expectations on food increasing with significant implications at farm level. Consumers continue to demand convenience foods and food which are “natural” and “sustainably” produced. Food also needs to positively impact on health and well-being including at various life stages and minimise impact on the environment.

With increasing pressure on land, labour and nutrients and growing concern on the impact of farming and food sector on water, soil and air quality how we deliver more food in a sustainable manner will be a key challenge. Policy makers, retailers and ultimately consumers want to know more about how food is produced, the impact on the planet and assurance it was produced ethically in terms of animal welfare/health and producer work/life balance and standard of living.

There is a great opportunity for farming and food sector in Northern Ireland to become a leader in sustainable food production and processing and continuing to further build capacity to deliver high quality, sustainable, safe, traceable and nutritious food, demanded by consumers. It is critical to able to measure “sustainability” and use this to develop food systems with an improved sustainability footprint. This is essential to support current and create new markets.

To deliver on this challenge we must firstly be able to catalogue and credit sustainability of our food production in a robust and scientific manner. From this basis strategies and programmes of activity can be implemented at producer, supply chain and industry level to further enhance the sustainable credentials of food production.

Project Summary:

The Food Futures project adopts a unique participatory approach to evidence and enhance the sustainability of Northern Ireland Agri-Food. The objective is to develop a holistic Sustainability Platform including reporting tool for agri-food supply chains. Robust, industry wide, evidence-based tools will generate reports for use by the industry, consumers and any future Northern Ireland Marketing Body.

Under the pillars of Economic, Environmental and Social and Ethical sustainability, simple, user friendly, scientifically robust metrics will be developed. These complex metrics will be prioritized and consolidated into a single indicator of sustainability. The integration of existing data flows with Northern Ireland AgriFood industry and new novel world-leading outcomes of sustainability related projects will feed into the development of the toolkit.

The toolkit will not only quantify sustainability in the broadest sense but will also help to:

  • support behavioural change to improve sustainability footprint,
  • identify areas for knowledge exchange and
  • identify knowledge gaps which may inform future Research and Development priorities for each supply chain, sector and the wider industry.

Quantifying and enhancing ‘’sustainability’ is key to sustaining and building markets locally and internationally both now and for the future. Work packages within the project will build on existing knowledge, current and new data to quantify and enhance the credentials of NI agri-food produce. Thirty ambassador farms, from multiple supply chains, will provide narrative case studies of the journey to evidence sustainability and will provide valuable input into the development of the Sustainability toolbox.

The Food Futures platform will inform and enhance sustainability of the land and food-based sector and help create an additional unique selling point for AgriFood sector in Northern Ireland. The project is a vital to support the AgriFood sector in Northern Ireland in producing high quality, safe, nutritious and sustainable food.

Food Futures is designed to bring together into a robust tool, information from across the agri-food supply chains relating to all the core pillars of sustainability. Its purpose is to provide a quantifiable indicator of the sustainability of food production in a holistic manner. This industry wide tool will:

  • Provide a robust, science-based platform for driving behavioural change relating to the sustainability credentials of our livestock products including efficiency of production. This will therefore help protect and enhance the agri-food sector for current and future generations.  
  • Create a platform from which to capture and credit components that will enhance the sustainability credentials of Northern Ireland Agri-food such as enhanced product quality, reduced supply chain waste, etc.
  • Provide a unique, defendable, evidence base to assist in the marketing of the Northern Ireland livestock products locally, nationally and globally
  • Enhance consumer confidence in the sustainability claims of Northern Ireland food and provide increased assurance on food provenance.