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Minister visits Agricultural Society Winter Fair

11 December, 2008

Sinn Fein Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew MP MLA today visited the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS) Winter Fair at Balmoral.

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development presented a major exhibition at the event in the King's Hall, under the theme of 'Delivering Change, Meeting Challenges'.

Speaking during her visit, the Minister said:

"The Winter Fair is an important event in the agriculture calendar and provides exhibitors with an opportunity to market their products and services.

"It is heartening to see the agricultural community rallying together to support the Fair as it takes place this year against a very difficult background, including the unfortunate situation which has arisen as a result of the animal feed scare. It is causing problems for the entire agricultural industry and I am working night and day to try to get through the problem and into better times in 2009.

"The dairy industry, is also facing hardship as a result of the wider global downturn, coupled with low prices and high input costs. I understand these concerns and will continue to lobby, through the highest political channels, for the re-introduction of dairy export refunds, which would help tide our industry through until more normal market trading resume. Indeed, I was in London, yesterday, accompanied by Finance Minister Nigel Dodds to press Defra Minister Mr Hilary Benn to be pro-active on this matter."

The Minister continued:

"The environment in which our industry is operating is changing on many different levels, and it is very important that farmers and the agri-food industry are equipped to meet the many challenges ahead, and take advantage of the many new opportunities which these challenges will present. The DARD exhibition focuses on measures which can contribute to the sustainability of our farming industry."

The Minister also made mention of the Rural Development Programme and the various presentations which were held throughout the day to provide information on Focus Farms, Farm Family Options, Farm Modernisation Programme, Processing and Marketing Grant Scheme, Marketing and Development Grant Scheme, Supply Chain Development and benchmarking.

The Minister explained:

"DARD is offering farmers and farm families some very valuable opportunities to expand their knowledge, their skills and their business focus. Again, this contributes to the principle of creating a sustainable future for our agriculture industry, in an environment which is changing constantly, and continually throwing up new challenges, but also new opportunities."

The Minister was welcomed to the Winter Fair by RUAS President Brian King and Chief Executive Colin McDonald.

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