THE targets listed in the Government’s Food Harvest 2020 strategy will only be realised if the short-term difficulties facing the sector are met with immediate action.
Fine Gael agriculture spokesperson Andrew Doyle issued the warning when welcoming the publication of the document.
“I am delighted to see the agri-food sector is finally being recognised as a pivotal area for economic growth, situated at the heart of any export-led recovery. The aims of the strategy are ambitious but attainable and will ensure job growth, if the short-term struggle is addressed,” he said.
Mr Doyle said the strategy has commendable long-term goals, but for many producers and processors, short-term survival is their primary concern. “I am particularly disappointed to see the strategy fails to outline any real action on correcting the imbalance between retailers and producers.”
Outlining some of the current difficulties in the sector, he said livestock numbers have fallen by 300,000. Farm incomes have plummeted by 30%. Retailers are squeezing producers out of business, while reaping the profits of the second highest food prices in Europe; and access to credit is limited.
“The sector needs a speedy, strong response from Government, if we are to overcome this difficult period and attract young, energetic and well educated people into the industry to secure its future and that of the family farm.
“I welcome the strategy’s aim of tackling price volatility and liquidity, but any action in this area must be supported by fair trade legislation which will encourage a level playing field for producers and suppliers,” he said.
Mr Doyle said the future of Ireland’s agri-food sector, landscape and biodiversity is dependent on an efficient family farm structure. “I caution the minister against an open-ended approach to consolidation if we are to avoid the difficulties that New Zealand is now facing regarding farm ownership and I urge him to take immediate action to tackle the dominance of the retail sector if this strategy is to have a genuine hope of being realised,” he said.
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