No change to expansion plans for agri sector despite uncertainty in biggest market

The Agri-Food sector’s Food Wise 2025 document won’t be changed despite huge uncertainty around the future of the sector’s single biggest market – the UK.

The plan targets to increase milk production by another 20% on top of the existing target of 50% envisaged as a result of Food Harvest 2020.

There is also a target to increase the value of agrifood exports by 85%, to €19 billion, over the next 10 years.

However, the Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed has said he does not believe the targets were too ambitious.

“They were compiled by all the stakeholders together. Food Wise 2025 is, in fact, the industry’s document. It involves the collaboration of the industry both inside and outside the farm gate.

“Therefore, the plans are not overly ambitious,” he said.

In the context of difficulties we are facing owing to Brexit and fluctuating commodity prices, the Minister said he believes it is not a time to ‘lose our nerve’.

He said one response to the challenges that exist is to diversify the range of markets into which we sell.

“On the dairy side, for example, China has in a very short space of time become our second largest market destination after the United Kingdom.

“My Department is continually attempting to seek new market opportunities in order that we can lower the risk if any particular market runs into difficulty,” Minister Creed said.

While, he conceded that Ireland does face specific difficulties associated with currency fluctuations in the UK market but, at the same time, he highlighted that the euro has weakened relative to the dollar.

“Therefore, in dollar-denominated markets, we have opportunities arising.

“It is a time in which to hold our nerve regarding our ambitions, which are significant and can be achieved over a 10-year horizon while acknowledging the present difficulties.

“The UK beef market is the best market to be in. I will be leading an effort to diversify our product in this regard. We will be going to China and south-east Asia in September.

“In the past two weeks, the US market for beef for grinding opened up. This is a significant step in the right direction. Some 80% of beef consumed in the United States is beef ground for mincemeat or burgers.

“We were already in the US market for prime cuts but this is a significant breakthrough. It is now up to the industry. Now that the market has opened, it faces a significant challenge to avail itself of market opportunities presented in that context,” he said.

The Minister stressed that it is important is that Food Wise 2025 is the industry’s document.

“The Department is obviously a facilitator in terms of the industry’s ambition. In the post-quota era, we have harnessed it collectively to achieve very significant targets in terms of export earnings and job creation.

“The jobs are, by and large, in rural areas. It is important that we continue to have faith in the industry to achieve the targets,” he said.