Increased production and exports not reflected in farm incomes, says MEP

While Ireland’s food exports have been particularly strong contributors to Ireland’s economic recovery the producers of that food have not benefited commensurately, according to Independent MEP Marian Harkin.

She has supported the view of the President of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association, Patrick Kent, that increased volume of beef production and exports is not reflected in beef farm incomes.

She said the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney is pleased to announce the value of the contribution of beef production to Ireland’s economic recovery, and the opening up of markets, but he ignores the reality at farm level where input costs and market returns are such as to question the practicality of expanding production to meet the Food Harvest 2020 targets set by the Government.

Last week Bord Bia launched its Export Performance and Prospects Report which showed a 4% increase in agri-food exports for 2014 to reach a record high of almost €10.5 billion.

Aidan Cotter, Chief Executive, Bord Bia outlined the background to the fifth consecutive year of export growth for the food and drink industry.

He said that, in 2014, exports grew by 4%, representing an expansion of 45% or €3.2 billion since 2009. The strongest performing sectors were dairy product and ingredients which exceeded the €3 billion mark (+3%), prepared foods (€1.8 billion, +8%) and seafood (€540 million, +8%).

The announcement by Bord Bia of five consecutive years of agri-food export growth was welcomed by the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney.

He said since 2009 food and beverage exports have increased by 45% compared to Irish merchandise exports which are 5% higher.

“Agri-food exports are essentially 10 times what normal merchandise exports outside the agri-food exports have been in the last number five years,” he said.

According to the Minister, nobody can question the importance of the sector for every parish in the country, in terms of having a stake or dividend in the sectors growth.

However, according to Marian Harkin the volatility of the world markets for beef and milk are such that the Minister needs to be careful not to fuel unrealistic expectations.

“These could lead farmers to make unwise investment decisions responding to political enthusiasm rather than the reality of cyclical returns from proven unstable markets.

“However the new Common Agricultural Policy opens up practical opportunities to improve farm incomes including the proposed Knowledge Transfer Groups Programme and the Beef Genomic/Beef Data Programme.

“It will be through maximising grass production and feeding, and improved breeding practice, that farmers will benefit best and will help provide the kind of stability in farm incomes which can offset the regular difficulties which arise in the markets for farmers output,” Marian Harkin MEP said.