THE rural economy in Northern Ireland has had a boost from Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill (yesterday Thursday 8 November) when she welcomed the Executive’s initiative on Jobs and the Economy.
She said: “It is vitally important that we maximise the support available to meet the economic challenges we are facing. I want to ensure that we have a thriving rural economy.”
In October, the Minister announced her decision that the Department would not apply voluntary modulation to single farm payments in December 2013. She explained: “This will generate additional spending power for farm businesses from the end of 2013 and into 2014. It will therefore mean an additional €18.5million going straight into the rural economy and being spent on a wide range of goods and services essential to carrying on farming.”
She also announced Executive backing for a new Food Innovation Support Unit at the Loughry Campus of the College for Agri Food and Rural Education. Minister O’Neill said: “The Agri Food Sector remains the most resilient sector of our local economy, recording year on year growth at a time when other sectors are falling behind. It is important that the sector is positioned to exploit market opportunities, supplying the right products at the right price and the right time.
“Food innovation is a key driver for growth of this sector. Our existing facility on the Loughry site has already proven valuable to many start up companies. We aim to deliver this new development by 2015 at an estimated cost of some £1.8million. As well as providing jobs in its construction phase, it and will, I am sure, result in increased levels of innovation and product development.”
The Minister also announced additional funding of £4million to expand the offering for tourists within forest parks by upgrading existing caravan sites to five star international standards. She added: “Tourism is becoming a major economic support to rural communities. We want to ensure that we maximise the return from our natural assets, including our forest parks. Upgrading these facilities has the potential to attract more tourists, including internationally. This fits well with our drive to ensure further tourism growth.”