The well leaked and well analysed Food Vision Dairy Group paper contains a number of insights that are reflective of the key challenge put to the group by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue.

The challenge is to strike the right balance between not diminishing or undermining the beneficial economic impacts of Irelands dairy/livestock based agri production systems, while at the same time addressing the need to reduce and cap harmful environmental impacts of agri-food production and dairy expansion in particular.

I believe that the group’s paper places ‘ownership’ of the climate and environmental challenge squarely where it should be – with farming and agri processing practitioners.

Practitioner buy-in beats ‘demonisation’ every time in terms of meeting fundamental existential challenges such as the climate environmental challenge we all now face.

Sustainability of dairy and agri-food

The long list of measures and metrics is not only by far the most balanced way to meet Irish agri/dairy sectoral budgets, it is also much more in line with international global customer requirements and expectations.

This is a key point in ensuring the economic sustainability of the sector given its 90% export profile.

At a time of extreme economic and political volatility, it is important, as the document does, to both take a longer term view and to place any policy assessment in the context of a comprehensive evaluation of the sector’s multiple impacts and dimensions.

This balanced approach is in sharp contrast to the mischaracterisation of the sector that we have experienced in ‘public debate’ over the last two years in particular.

Quite frankly, the appalling nexus of either dismissing Irish agriculture (like the ‘sunset industry’ in 2004 ), in the context of Ireland’s huge (but transient/delusional) foreign direct investment (FDI) based gross domestic product (GDP) performance or through the ‘demonisation’ of agri emissions by the environmental lobby, was both ill informed and destined not only to diminish Irish agriculture, but also the whole Irish economy.

The table below shows EU income and GDP comparisons per country.

A reminder of the realities of Ireland’s real income situation is provided in the chart above compiled annually by Eurostat.

The table shows quite dramatically that while Ireland’s GDP figure in 2020 was over twice the EU average, Ireland’s actual income consumed was only 90% of the EU average.

So instead of being the second wealthiest country in the EU as per the GDP figure, when profit repatriation and transfer pricing amounts are accounted for, we are 13th richest out of the EU 27.

The point here is that much of the mischaracterisation of Irish agriculture, and the espousal of policies to reduce and constrain its output, would have major detrimental impacts on the incomes of all citizens in the Irish economy.

Perversely, it would also serve only to increase global emissions, as has been demonstrated in the context of analysis of carbon leakage impacts of the suppression of Irish and EU agricultural output.

So, in many respects a restoration of balance and depth, reflecting a more holistic and realistic approach to  the Irish economy’s real economic and political reality is both timely and badly needed.

Inward investment

Quite frankly, following major planning delays and the very significant associated financial costs experienced in regard to the Glanbia cheese plant venture in Kilkenny and the Dairygold cheese venture, Ireland Inc. needs to take stock and reassess its inward investment capability, alongside its regional and rural development policy.

While there was huge political energy put into maintaining Irelands ‘competitive’ position, vis-a-vis corporation tax, it is very clear that not just in agriculture, but across the economy, investors (both indigenous and inward) will see the tax regime as a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to invest in Ireland to grow jobs and exports.

Like all of the competing destinations in Europe, the UK and globally, the Irish economy will not secure investment based on a ‘one-trick pony’ approach; we need a comprehensive industrial development policy that includes a planning process that functions on a practical, accountable basis to sustain investment growth and jobs.

Part of both the planning and industrial development policy and process, especially but not exclusively in agriculture, must involve a greater commitment to real dialogue and real information gathering.

This information must be science-based and ultimately capable of judging the sector based on its actual performance – scientifically, economically and environmentally.