The perception of agriculture among consumers and the influence of initiatives such as Origin Green will be key for Irish agriculture going forward.

This is the view of the global head of agri-business for international accounting giant KPMG and audit partner, Ian Proudfoot.

Proudfoot – who is based in Auckland, New Zealand – spoke to AgriLand ahead of his upcoming talk as part of this week’s Agricultural Science Association (ASA) Annual Banquet and Conference, taking place tonight and tomorrow.

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“When I look globally, we’re getting far more conscious consumers that want to understand where their food is coming from, how it’s being grown, what’s the animal welfare standards that’s being applied, what’s the sustainability practices applied on farm.

And therefore for farmers – particularly farmers that are producing products in high-cost countries like Ireland, like New Zealand – it’s really important to understand the views of those consumers, and ensure that they’re designing their farming systems to respond to those views.

This he said would involve making sure that farmers are trying to be world-class in how they use water, ensuring that they are minimising the amount of chemical inputs into their systems, and working in a way that enables them to “create great stories that underline the products”.

“The attributes are so critical to premium consumers,” Proudfoot stressed.

Origin Green

Turning to initiatives, the global agri-business expert said: “I look at Ireland and I look at the platform you’ve built with Origin Green.

“Now I know at the moment that’s probably not yet delivering a monetary return for farmers – but what it gives you is the infrastructure to be able to move forward to bolt onto that Origin Green platform attributes that are then valuable to consumers.

You will be paid a premium for providing those attributes and providing a certainty around those attributes.

“I think that’s quite unique, the platform that you have built, in comparison to what’s available in most countries around the world.”

Status quo no longer an option

Discussing his key message for Irish agriculture and the ASA conference, Proudfoot said: “I think the key, and the core of what I’ll be talking about as well, is just that doing the status quo is not an option if you’re involved in the agricultural industry.

“We’re seeing so much investment coming in from non-traditional sources into agri-food; innovation and technology that if you believe that you can continue to produce products in the way you’ve produced them historically, and get the returns that you’ve had for those products, you’re kidding yourself.

There’s just no opportunity to do that; change has therefore got to become the norm in this industry as it has been in many other industries for a very long time.

“And that’s not evolutionary change, which I think the industry’s been quite good at, how do you do things to improve yield; in here we’re talking about revolutionary change.”

Explaining this, Proudfoot said: “We’re talking about adopting digital technologies, we’re talking about how we think about biotechnology, we’re talking about different ways of connecting with the consumer, we’re talking about different expectations about how food functions as part of our society.”

He added that, to him, there is huge opportunity in front of countries that produce high-quality, premium foods to capture more value from what they do.

But it’s going to be the culture and the willingness of the operators and the industry to change that’s going to determine who actually captures that value in reality.

“And, in Ireland, you’re looking at this environment of change against the background of Brexit as well – which is just another level of complexity,” Proudfoot concluded.