Irish agri-food exports dip 4% to €12 billion in 2018

Butter exports soared to record levels in 2018, while the value of live exports dropped by 8% last year due to a hike in calf exports, according to Bord Bia.

Despite a year of unprecedented global volatility, involving political uncertainty, extreme weather events and continuing currency fluctuations impacting competitiveness, the value of Irish food, drink and horticulture exports has reached €12.1 billion in 2018 – down 4% from 2017.

Launching Bord Bia’s Export Performance and Prospects 2018/2019 report, today (Wednesday, January 9), the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, outlined that prospects “remain positive” for food and drink exports in 2019.

While the value of Irish exports dipped last year, the sector recorded the highest-ever volume of exports – up 2% – representing the ninth consecutive year of volume growth.

The total agri-food exports figure for 2018 was valued at €13.6 billion when non-edible products, such as forestry and oils, are included.

Minister Creed said he was “encouraged by the resilience demonstrated by Irish exporters during 2018, in the face of extensive flooding, drought and uncertainty around Britain’s exit from the European Union”.

The minister also expressed his confidence that this resilience would continue throughout 2019.

Despite ongoing indecision and caution around Brexit, Creed noted that the UK market reached €4.5 billion in exports – an increase of 2% compared to 2017.

According to Bord Bia’s new report, Ireland’s largest export categories, meat and dairy, accounted for 66% of total exports, remaining stable.

Bord Bia’s CEO, Tara McCarthy noted that total export volume increased significantly across many categories this year.

However, this was counteracted by global price volatility.

While Irish producers exported 50,000t more in volume, the euro value recorded for those exports declined.

Sectoral analysis

Dairy was the strongest performer in terms of export volume growth in 2018, with volumes up 5% compared to 2017.

The value of dairy exports remained stable, exceeding €4 billion for the second year in a row. Butter had an exceptional year in the US and continental Europe and for the first time the value of Irish butter exports exceeded €1 billion for the year, representing a 22% increase on 2017’s value.

More than 50% of Ireland’s cheese exports – of which 83% is cheddar – is destined for the UK.

However, in 2018 22% of cheese exports were destined for countries outside of the UK and continental Europe – a significant increase from 17% in 2010.

In 2018 the value of cheese exports to Asia and to North America increased 12% and 35% respectively to a total value of €75 million.

Meat and livestock

Meanwhile, the value of meat and livestock exports from Ireland in 2018 was just under €4 billion, an increase of 1% on 2017 and a record high for the category.

Production volumes are up across all meat species and new markets are being targeted. Beef exports were valued at €2.5 billion (up 2%), while strong price growth saw a 15% rise in the value of sheep exports to reach €315 million.

Significant downward price pressure saw the value of pigmeat exports decline by 6% to €666 million for the year – even though production increased by 4%.

The value of poultry exports increased by 8% to €316 million – as the sector reached its highest ever production levels of 157,000t.

Finally, the overall value of live animal exports declined by 8% in 2018 to €161 million – despite an increase in the number of animals exported.

Bord Bia highlighted that this was due to an increase in calf exports and a decline in higher value finished cattle.