Carving out a niche for the Irish lamb industry

COMMENT: The Irish sheepmeat industry is one of the smaller segments of the Irish agriculture sector, with an annual output of €180m.

In recent years the industry has faced decline with the national flock reducing in size by a third. Irish flock productivity lags about 15 per cent our UK counterparts. However, there have been many positive trends in recent years:

  • Since 2011, sheep numbers seem to have turned a corner and factory throughputs are slowly edging upwards again
  • The establishment of Sheep Ireland will aim to accelerate the accelerate the genetic improvement of the national sheep flock
  • Teagasc is committed to sheep research and advice through a new Research Demonstration Flock at Athenry and an expanded Better Sheep Farm Programme.

More than 70 per cent of Irish sheepmeat is exported. Of these exports, 60 per cent will finish up on discerning French tables, where quality and taste are of paramount importance.

The importance of this key export market highlights the opportunity to extract even greater value for quality Irish lamb by highlighting the quality and provenance of the product. One possible avenue is to pursue special EU quality designations known as “protected geographical indicators (PGI)”.

Such PGIs are defined as “agricultural products and foodstuffs closely linked to the geographical area. At least one of the stages of production, processing or preparation takes place in the area”.

Within France there are 113 such PGI products registered, Italy has 97, Spain has 72, Germany 61, and Portugal 59. There are 26 PGI registered products in the UK including Scotch Lamb and Welsh Lamb.

Ireland with its food production traditions and uniqueness has only three registered PGI products. One of these three is Connemara Hill Lamb. According to the Connemara Hill Lamb website, the attainment of such PGI status “means that the use of the name Connemara Hill Lamb is reserved exclusively for hill lamb born and reared within the designated area by registered members of Connemara Hill Lamb Ltd and is protected against imitation, exploitation or misuse”.

The initiative of Connemara Hill Lamb highlights the possibilities for farmers to add value and uniqueness to their products in competitive export markets.

By Tom O’Callaghan 

Tom O’Callaghan has 15 years of global experience in the agri-food sector, including dairy, meat, consumer package goods, bio-fuels and farming-owned co-operatives. He is currently focusing on emerging area of improving efficiency through agri-analytics and is advising on agri-food and farm efficiency expansion across Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union countries. He is also the ex-ceo of ICOS.

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