Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Tom Hayes TD, this morning addressed a major conference on the expansion of the dairy sector in Mitchelstown Co Cork.

Organised by Dairy Ireland, which represents dairy farmer discussion groups, the conference is attract leading Irish and international figures from the dairy and financial sectors, including Dairygold Jim Woulfe, Frans Keurentjes, board member of Dutch Dairy FrieslandCampina, Rabobank’s Barry Henry and finance expert John Crawley.

It is also being attended by a large number of progressive dairy farmers preparing to develop and expand their enterprises after quota abolition.

Opening the conference, the Minister outlined the tremendous opportunity for expansion and development of the Irish dairy sector after the abolition of quotas, but cautioned that there was no room for complacency:

“In order to reach its undoubted potential, the Irish dairy sector will need to sharpen its focus on improving competitiveness at home, on growing  market share in existing markets in the UK, Europe and the US and accelerating  growth in new exciting new markets in Russia, the Middle East, Africa and China, and on continuing to focus on delivering a high quality product, supported by the highest standards of food safety and environmental sustainability.”

Referring to Ireland’s natural advantages in terms of its brand image, the Minister said it was critically important operators in the sector continued to work hard to ensure that the quality and safety of its market offering continued to live up to this brand image.

In this regard he said the work under way to develop a dairy quality and sustainability programme for the sector was of critical importance and could bring a real added value and a unique selling point for Irish dairy products in the international market place.

Minister Hayes also referred to the political agreement reached on a reformed Common Agricultural Policy under the Irish Presidency in on 26 June.

Commenting on the outcome, he said the agreement provides critical certainty and stability for farmers across Europe over the next seven years, and for Irish farmers, a budget of almost €11bn in EU funds for direct payments and rural development schemes. In this regard he said that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will shortly be launching a public consultation that will provide stakeholders with an opportunity to play a key role in shaping the implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy in Ireland over the next seven years.

Concluding, Minister Hayes acknowledged the tremendous positivity and momentum in the dairy sector at present:  “The expansion train has left the station. Provided the industry keeps its eye on the tracks, avoids complacency, and continues to do what is necessary to improve efficiency and quality, I believe we will be looking at a transformed, more sustainable industry into the future, one that can make an even more significant contribution to Ireland’s economic growth, to employment, and to the livelihoods of people in rural Ireland.”

Reports & interviews with Dairygold’s Jim Woulfe, Dutch Dairy’s FrieslandCampinaFrans Keurentjes, Rabobank’s Barry Henry and finance expert John Crawley to follow.

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