Next to beef, the seafood and pigmeat export sectors had the most drama in 2019.
The supply of fresh organic Irish salmon ceased during the final two months of the year, due to jellyfish and planktonic ‘blooms’ in a number of fish farms.
But the strength of the sector enabled it to overcome the effective shut-down of supplies, with Irish salmon exports in 2019 increasing in value by about 14%, despite ending abruptly as environmental and animal health issues forced shutdowns for the final two months.
Mortalities in certain oyster growing areas also impacted on supply towards the end of 2019.
Nevertheless, Ireland’s seafood industry delivered a story of growth in 2019, as overall export values increased by 6% to €605m.
And the end of the year also brought some good news, with Bord Bia saying the confirmation in December of quotas for 2020 included a significant (40%) uplift in Irish mackerel, albeit with a 15% prawn quota decline.
The pigmeat sector had even further-reaching drama last year. According to Bord Bia, it would be difficult to overstate the impact of African swine fever (ASF) on international markets and supplier confidence. A major supply gap has emerged, largely a consequence of the disease hitting key production centres in Asia.
The impact on China, the number one global pigmeat producer, has been particularly severe, with the country forced to liquidate some 130m pigs or 40% of its national herd by last September.
The decision by Chinese authorities to increase pork imports to more than 3m tonnes in 2019, at least 40% more than 2018, has been a catalyst for pig price rises.
In Ireland, pigmeat prices started the year under pressure, but rebounded strongly as the year progressed, with record returns achieved in some instances as the year ended.
This market uplift was reflected in the export figures, with a 13% pigmeat value increase from €835.5m to €941 making it one of the star performers, at 7.2% of our food, drink and horticulture exports.
It’s the first time ever that Irish pigmeat exports have approached the €1bn mark.
This included demand for Irish pigmeat more than doubling in China, from €73m to €151m, for a record-breaking 82,000 tonnes, our second most important export market after the UK (which took 53% of our exports).
Our pigmeat did well in the home market also, with lower imports in the face of the exceptionally strong international demand due to ASF. Irish consumption of pigmeat is high, at 27.9kg per capita.
Due to the huge damage to production by ASF, many consumers in Asia will have to switch to alternative meat proteins in the short to medium term. Irish beef and sheepmeat exporters can hope to capitalise, on top of the record pigmeat exports.