There are plans to have all farms and seafood operators in quality assurance (QA) schemes under the 2030 Agri-Food Strategy, according to a draft document.

According to the strategy, which is set to go to public consultation imminently, the plan to have all farms under QA schemes is part of a wider effort to enhance the value of Irish agri-food produce.

Sectoral stakeholder groups will consider how to address barriers to entry to QA schemes for farmers, the strategy document says.

It also outlines that QA schemes will be continuously reviewed and updated so that they are in line with “enhanced expectations” in areas such as environmental performance; food safety standards; and animal health and welfare.

This plan comes under the second ‘Mission’ of the strategy, which deals with the viability and well-being of primary producers.

Specifically, one of the goals under this mission deals with improved distribution of value. It is under this heading that QA schemes are discussed.

The document notes that QA schemes “provide customers with proven credentials”, as well as providing customers with the opportunity to “reward or incentivise” the primary producer.

The strategy says that providing independently-verified evidence of “quality gains” maintains high-standards of quality and bolsters Ireland’s reputation in international markets.

Unfair trading practices in agri-food

Several other actions are outlined under the ‘distribution of value’ goal, including actions to address unfair trading practices.

The EU’s Directive on Unfair Trading Practices (UTP Directive) is touted in the strategy as “critically important in protecting and enhancing” the place of primary producers in the value chain.

The Department of Agriculture will transpose the directive into Irish law, which will be done in tandem with the creation of the office of a National Food Ombudsman.

Market and price transparency

The strategy highlights that further market and price reporting will take place at EU level from this year.

At national level, initiatives to improve price transparency will be discussed at the Beef Market Taskforce.

The document says that the government will “engage fully” with the European Commission on the issue, and will “continue to develop national initiatives on market and price transparency”.

Producer organisations

The strategy highlights that there are no producer organisations (POs) for the arable crop sector at present, and only two for the beef sector.

However, the EU as a whole has 178 POs in the beef and veal sector.

This leaves Irish producers in these sectors “more open to being price takers”.

The document states that registered POs can benefit from exemptions from EU competition rules for certain activities, such as collective negotiations on behalf of their members; planning of production; or for certain supply management measures.

The strategy outlines that the department will support the establishment of POs in farming.

Agri-food producer contracts

While the dairy sector has made progress in making fixed-price contracts a feature of producer/processor relationships, the strategy highlights that such contracts are less common in the other sectors.

It notes that, in the beef sector, a recent initiative involving a guaranteed-pricing model with bonuses “may be a prototype for primary producers”.

The strategy aims to promote and develop contractual arrangements to “bring more production and price certainty” to producers.

Certification, accreditation and geographical indicators

The document highlights the importance of EU-level designations for products, including Protected Designation of Origin (PDO); Protected Geographical Indication (PGI); and Traditional Specialties Guaranteed (TSG).

Ireland has relatively few of these types of designations, with seven. For comparison, Italy has almost 300.

The strategy notes that there is a market demand for livestock products that are ‘grass-fed’, which consumers associate with quality.

According to the document, the state will support food producers in applying for these designations as a way of adding value, while also continuing the certification and branding of ‘grass-fed’ produce.

It also states that the benefits arising from any premium price that these products achieve should be passed back “proportionately” to the primary producer.