COMMENT: Following a year that that has seen a lot of very positive speculation about the prospects for food commodity prices, it makes total sense for our food processing sectors to maintain their focus on that all-embracing challenge of adding value.

Apart from anything else, it is now inevitable that global free trade in agri-food products will become a reality in the not too distant future. And, yes, this will represent a challenge for Irish agriculture. But it’s one that local farmers and food processors should meet head on. The way forward is by producing want consumers want and this can only be achieved through the successful adoption of new technologies and proper marketing.

Ireland has the unique advantage of being renowned throughout the world for the quality of its environment and the beauty of its countryside. And this is a tremendous starting point that we can now build on.

It’s no secret that many beef farmers are appalled at the poor prices they are currently receiving and this in the wake of the investment they made in the likes of farm quality assurance schemes.

In a similar vein, livestock farmers have spent millions of their own money, putting in place improved farm infrastructures. Again, there is a need for this commitment to be converted into a strong marketing theme, highlighting our farming industry’s commitment to the environment. In fact, if we cannot do this, then one has to ask what was it all for in the first instance?

But at the end of the day the consumer is king. Farmers do not have a divine right to receive a certain price for a particular product. In any event, the attainment of specific quality standards should be taken as a prerequisite with regard to the production of all food products.

Where the local food sector can score is through the development of speciality, value added products, for which there is a high consumer demand. This is already happening in countries such as New Zealand and it’s imperative that  Ireland continues to follow suit.