Opinion

No one is any the wiser after reading Food Wise 2025

The vision for the agri-food sector, as outlined in Food Wise 2025, has outlined some very serious projections.

It is predicting an increase of Irish food and drink exports by 85% to €19 billion within the next 10 years. It also promises to deliver 23,000 new jobs to the agri-food industry.

Food Wise 2025 is the follow on vision of Food Harvest 2020 and this time around the vision for the future of the agri-food sector is set out through recommendations and actions to achieve these overall targets.

Unfortunately, the recommendations are counted in terms such as ‘develop’, ‘prioritise’, ‘improve’ and ‘further enhance’.

For example, in market development, the report states that the Irish agri-food industry should enhance its strong credentials in food safety through a public-private collaboration aimed at anticipating and mitigating new and emerging risks to the food chain.

Or, in the dairying section, one action is ‘increase the number of farmers that complete profit monitor or other cost management tools’. However, definite figures and yard sticks against which to measure its success are lacking.

And while it points out a comparative lack of scale at processing level as a weakness of the dairy sector, there are no recommendations to rectify this. And reduced processor numbers with increased scale was an area that was outlined as a key recommendation in Food Harvest 2020.

Skills availability is another weakness pointed out within the industry, but no definite actions or recommendations are made as to how to address this.

On the beef side, it lists driving on-farm competitiveness; enhanced supply chain integration and information flow; furthering our reputation on international markets; adding value through R&D; and, environment and sustainability as the priority actions for the sector.

While the beef section does contains definite figures – with an aim of increasing the number of farmers who measure grass on a weekly basis from 1,250 to 5,000 by 2025 – given the number of farmers involved in beef production in Ireland, 5,000 is a very low target.

Under the Department of Agriculture’s new Knowledge Transfer Scheme 7,000 beef farmers are expected to join this year.

But, for the most part the actions and recommendations lack definitive figures and measurable goals.

Indeed, the lack of a timeline and defined targets carries through the other sectors, where there is too much left to ‘explore opportunities’ and ‘invest and strengthen’ and ‘improve’.

While the top end figures are impressive, the 85% increase in agri-food exports and the creation of 23,000 new jobs, are the main focus of the vision. But, where exactly those jobs are going to be created remains to be seen and, more importantly, how they will be created is unclear.

With a general election in the offing, let’s hope that the vision is not based on cresting the hugely positive wave the agri-food industry is currently experiencing, but that there is a clear roadmap to steer the industry to achieving its full potential.

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