Research and development supports ‘missing link’ in food exports chain

RESEARCH and development supports are the missing link in the chain to promote Irish food exports, claims the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society.

ICOS, the representative body for 150,000 co-op members, has broadly welcomed the budget, but it also notes new food products will be needed to deliver on food export ambitions.

ICOS interim director general Ray Doyle said: “The maintenance of the Department of Agriculture’s budget on a virtually intact basis (excepting certain farm support schemes) is welcome. However, the National Recovery Plan also needs to prioritise investment in research and development throughout the four-year course of the plan. This is essential in the context of Food Harvest 2020.”

Food Harvest 2020 is the Department of Agriculture’s blueprint for the expansion of Irish food production. Goals include primary agriculture, fisheries and forestry output up €1.5bn, up 33% on the 2007-2009 average. Value-added consumer food and wood products are sought to grow €3bn, or a 40% jump. Dairy output is to increase by 50%. The goal is for total exports to exceed €12bn by 2020.

Ray Doyle said: “Rather than generalised research supports, incentives are necessary to encourage targeted research and new product potential in the dairy and food processing industry. The most appropriate mechanism for this would be to support collaborative research initiatives and joint ventures between co-ops.

“This includes functional food ingredients, prepared consumer foods, value added meats, speciality food products genomics and environmental sustainability initiatives as outlined in Food Harvest 2020.”

Food Harvest 2020 notes that the sector accounts for over half of manufacturing exports by Irish-owned firms and serves in excess of 160 export destinations.

Meanwhile, Minister of State for Forestry Sean Connick welcomed the allocation of €114.5m to fund forestry during 2011. “The potential return on investment in forestry, in the short and long term, was also highlighted by the various stakeholders within the sector in their communications with me.”

The budget’s industry measures were also welcomed by John Roche of Cork-based business, The Forestry Company. The forestry budget for 2011 has been set at €119 million, very close to 2010 levels, allowing 17,000 acres to be planted. It will also allow the current rates of premiums to remain. Around 16,000 people are employed in forestry.

John Roche said: “It is important that farmers who commit a portion of their land to forestry have confidence that the current grant rates will remain in place. The level of interest in forestry at the moment is very high and this budget will give people a lot of comfort. Forestry premiums are a vital part of farm incomes.”

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