A meat industry, heavy-weight who once directed one of the island's largest meat firms, has ventured out on his own to start an agri-food consultancy firm.

Former Dunbia director Jonathan Birnie plans to work with agri-food businesses to help them realise their export potential.

Birnie was previously head of agriculture and research at Dunbia, one of the leading UK red meat processors headquartered in Northern Ireland.

He is also a former policy adviser to the National Farmers Union and head of agriculture at Sainsbury and a past Nuffield scholar.

The announcement comes just weeks after Dunbia was taken over by Irish meat processor Dawn Meats.

The new firm - Birnie Consulting - will help businesses focus on building global supply chains and is already working with farming and food businesses in the UK and Ireland.

The consultancy, which is based in Dungannon, Co. Tyrone, will work with several partners to develop food chains reaching across the world.

Birnie said: “We bring vast practical experience within all areas of the food chain. It’s an area that’s growing increasingly important especially with so much attention on efficiency and competitiveness in farming and food across the world.

The importance of measures to enhance competitiveness are growing - especially in the UK as it moves towards Brexit.

“In addition, there’s now a global focus on far-reaching initiatives to increase safety throughout supply chains in response to concerns about the worrying problem of food fraud; an area in which Northern Ireland is developing world-class expertise through the leadership of the pioneering Institute of Global Food Security at Queen’s University in Belfast."

Earlier this year, Birnie left the position he held in Dunbia for 12 years to pursue an ambition to develop his own business.

The consultancy will specialise in food chains and project and research management, as well as scientific and technical appraisal.

He added: “I’ve pulled together a team of professionals with extensive experience of managing and delivering multi-disciplinary research projects across the food production industry at all levels.

“These projects have been delivered at research centres, on-farm, in-factory and at retail level. We have also been involved both in biological and technological development."

The company has expertise across all livestock areas including beef, dairy, sheep and pigs and can assist with funding applications, knowledge transfer, change management and new product development.