The level of food that Ireland imports is unacceptable, according to James Nix, Policy Director with An Taisce, who told the recent Macra na Feirme conference that 80% of fruit and vegetables are imported.

He told the annual conference, where the theme was ‘Young farmers – the new environmentalists’, that the main issue for farming is profitability, yet Ireland is importing 80% of the fruit and vegetables on supermarket shelves and 80% of all organic produce.

“It’s an unacceptable level of risk to leave the country in. We need to reduce this dependance.”

He also said that Irish farmers should not be chasing the global market, but carving out their own. Grass-fed beef does offer prospects for differentiation and if the global market sees dairy prices drop to low 20s, it will put huge pressure on the dairy farmer here. “We should not chase volume, but focus on value.”

He said that below cost selling of vegetables is something that consumers don’t want. “Some 90% of consumers don’t want it, according to Agri Aware research. It sends out a signal that food is cheap and worthless.”

The UK has brought forward legislation to tackle the supermarket power, he said, which Ireland also needs to do.