The coming weeks will see outgoing Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) chair Gerard McGivern move on to the next stage of his career, after eight years at the helm.
McGivern looks back over this period of time with many fond memories but above all else, the Co. Down man regards his more than active involvement with the commission as a tremendously fulfilling experience.
“I have no family or professional background in either agriculture or food,” he explained.
“Prior to me coming on board as commission chair, I had been heavily involved in business development within local government.
“So getting up to speed with what LMC is all about was a very steep learning curve.
“But I was also struck, from the very outset, with the tremendous respect that farmers and other stakeholders with the agri-food industry had for the work carried out by the commission,” he added.
“This was in total contrast with the mood music that permeated the small business sector a decade or so ago.
“So my involvement with the commission was a very refreshing experience from the get-go.
“And as I got to find out more about the work of the LMC and the commitment of the staff, this feeling of deep appreciation for the organisation and everything that it stands for has continued to grow.”
It soon became clear to the newly appointment chair that LMC has many strands to its bow, in terms of the work carried out on behalf of the red meat sector, much of which went under the radar of farmers and the agri-food sector as a whole.
“At the outset, I would have been strongly of the view that most farmers associated the commission with the Farm Quality Assurance Scheme,” he explained.
“But beyond that, everything went a little bit grey.
“It struck me then that a job of work would be required to communicate more effectively what LMC is all about and the tremendous value it represents for levy payers.
“This has been a constant theme of my chairmanship and I am delighted to confirm that real progress has been made in this regard.
“LMC now has a tremendous presence across all traditional and social media outlets. And this is a direct result of the work put in by commission chief executive Ian Stevenson and all his staff.”
A standout moment for McGivern, in terms of confirming the tremendous work carried out by LMC, was the organisation’s commissioning of the Andersons’ Centre to formally assess the future of suckler beef and sheep production in Northern Ireland.
“The report was published in July 2016,” he confirmed.
“And such was the significance of this work that many of its recommendations formed the core of the post-Brexit beef reform support package signed off by former agriculture minister Edwin Poots.”
Making a real and positive difference on behalf Northern Ireland’s beef and sheep farmers has been a continuous priority for Gerard McGivern throughout his chairmanship of LMC.
Being proactive at all times has been another stand-out theme of his leadership.
The role played by the commission in helping to secure a £7 million Covid-19 support package from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) is a case in point.
“LMC was to the fore in helping to secure a Covid-19 package on behalf of the red meat industry,” McGivern said.
“But, more than that, we helped to ensure that beef and sheep farmers were first to secure the Covid-19 funding they needed relative to their colleagues in other sectors. And, fundamentally, this was due to the fact that LMC was immediately out of the blocks in delivering the information needed by DAERA.
“This in turn allowed the then farm minister Edwin Poots take the decisions that he was challenged to make in a timely fashion.
“So, I think it is appropriate to make the point that where red meat led, other sectors then followed.”
Gerard McGivern points to the growing relationship between LMC, the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association (NIMEA) and the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) as being of fundamental importance over the past eight years.
“The three organisations working together bring real credibility to the table when it comes to securing the policy requirements of the beef and sheep industries,” he said
“It is also universally accepted that LMC plays a fundamental role in making this team-of-three approach work when it comes to delivering real and positive change for beef and lamb.
“One of the standout developments to have taken place during my period as commission chairman has been the evolution of the relationship between LMC and DAERA.
“It always was strong. But the past eight years have seen a growing recognition on the part of DAERA regarding the real expertise that exists within LMC,” McGivern added.
“This is especially the case when it comes to sorting out those critical issues that determine the direction of travel for the livestock industry.”
Gerard McGivern is also quick to point to the very strong and positive relationship that exists between LMC and local politicians.
“We have an excellent rapport with all the political parties,” he added.
“And this was specifically the case when it came to doing business with former farm ministers.
“We worked very closely with Edwin Poots during Covid-19 while also helping to shape the post- Brexit support priorities for the livestock sector with his DAERA officials.”
One of the highlights of McGivern’s period as LMC chair was that of hosting a banquet in Paris during the 2016 SIAL food exhibition.
“The event provided an opportunity for those red meat companies and other food exhibitors from Northern Ireland, who were in Paris for the exhibition, to bring buyers from across Europe to join in a celebration of all that is good about local beef and lamb,” he explained
“The venue was a top Parisian restaurant. Northern Ireland’s farm minister at the time, Michelle McIlveen MLA was in attendance. She also spoke at the event.
“The event was a tremendous success. Everyone attending got a genuine sense of just how good the quality of farm quality assured beef and lamb from Northern [Ireland] really is.
“It’s not every day that one gets the opportunity of hosting an event of this significance. And was it worth going to all that effort? Of course it was.”
Nothing in life remains as is. Indeed, this is an understatement of some magnitude when it comes to assessing the changing landscape that Northern Ireland’s beef and lamb sectors find themselves occupying.
The past eight years have seen the aftermath of Brexit, a Covid-19 pandemic, the growing awareness of climate change and, more recently, the war in Ukraine and the ensuing cost of living crisis all impacting directly on the red meat industry.
McGivern is also very aware of the attempts made over the past decade and more to push ahead with an over-arching marketing body for farming and food in Northern Ireland.
“LMC has always highlighted the roe it can play within a future marketing-led scenario for farming and food,” he said.
“But, in truth, we have moved beyond the marketing age. Sustainability is now the real driver when it comes to agreeing how our beef, lamb and the other agri-food sectors define their futures.
“And all of this is framed within the context of the climate change regulations that were agreed for Northern Ireland last year.”