The scale of expansion in the Irish agri-food sector in the coming decade should only be limited by the capacity of family farms, according to ICOS’s submission to the 2025 Agri Food Strategy public consultation.

It also says the dairy and beef sectors must aim to maximise scale efficiencies, while recognising that scale in itself will never be our strength.

Therefore, it says Ireland’s ambition should be to develop a brand for Irish exports which is the envy of our competition, and which suggests “clean, green, healthy, ethical” to customers.

In addition, it says the sector needs to address risks in all areas, across price volatility, food scares, reputation damage etc.

ICOS has also said the Ireland’s ambition must however be tempered by the reality that Ireland has defensive as well as offensive interests in regard to its bilateral trade policy.

While ICOS welcomes the recent lifting of the US ban on Irish beef, this should not be used as a bargaining chip by US beef.

In regard to its submission on 2025 Agri-Food Strategy, ICOS President Martin Keane has said it provides a valuable opportunity to check on the progress of the 2020 Food Harvest plans, to revisit priorities, and to make adjustments to the process.

He said while the 2020 document provided a very valuable set of targets to aspire to, and a roadmap as to how the targets could be hit; the lessons learned over the past five years ought to be analysed and integrated into a revised document.

“We are now five years down the road towards our 2020 targets, and we have, as predicted grown milk supply strongly; to the extent that we will be facing a super levy that could approach €100m.

“Farmers have invested in their herds and facilities and have used the last five years well in terms of developing their skills in grassland management and herd management.

“There still remains a lot of work to be done in terms of financial and business management at farm level, however, he said.

At processor level, Keane has noted that several hundred million has been spent in processing facilities and quality systems to ensure that all the extra milk can be processed, and done so efficiently.

The huge developments in routes to market, facilitated by investments by the IDB and others, will pay dividends in terms of access to premium developing markets.

However, he said we still haven’t managed to combat volatility, however, and the coming season may demonstrate how damaging the income roller-coaster may be, to farmers and their co-ops.

“Perhaps we were a little too positive in our post Food Harvest 2020 conversations.

“Dairy farming was portrayed as the promised land.

“Perhaps now, with the benefit of five years more learning, we should temper the rhetoric, and look more clearly at the necessary steps to develop a profitable industry while realising the potential of the nation’s dairy farms,” he said.