From taste trails to Michelin Star restaurants, Cork ticks all the boxes, writes Minister
Everywhere I travel across the world as Minister for Agriculture, Food & Marine promoting Ireland’s agri-food and fisheries to international markets, I proudly declare that Ireland is the ‘food island’.
The agri-food and fisheries sector is our largest indigenous industry, contributing significantly to the economy and acting as a primary driver in rural sectors.
In overall terms, exports of agricultural products were worth over €13.6bn in 2018, representing an increase of 74% in value since 2009. There has been value growth in exports to UK, EU, and non-EU destinations, with the fastest growth in exports to new markets in North America and Asia, and particularly China.
If Ireland is indeed the ‘food island’, then Cork is well and truly Ireland’s ‘milking parlour’. With 370,000 dairy cows, representing 26% of the national dairy herd, Cork farmers are filling the tanks of Ireland’s dairy expansion.
Significant investments by companies such as Dairygold, Carbery, Ornua, and North Cork Creameries in recent years are a firm signal that the industry is doubling down on its commitment to Cork and the future outlook of a global industry in which we are world-leading performers.
Over the next five years, Ireland will continue to be amongst the world’s fastest-growing dairy producers. Irish milk production in 2017 approached 7.5bn litres, an increase of almost 50% on the 2007-2009 average.
It would be an error, of course, to categorise Cork as merely a dairy producing area. With over 14,000 farmers and on-farm employment of about 18,500, each and every farm holding from Sheep’s Head to Ballyhea provides an economic driver in every townland, village, and town across the county.
Irish Distillers in Midleton, which supplies Jameson to the planet, wouldn’t be the success it is without Cork’s dedicated tillage farmers. The same can be said for Heineken Ireland, located in Cork City, and indeed the burgeoning craft brewing and distilling sector that has sprouted up from Baile Mhuirne to Kinsale.
Ireland’s beef sector has faced challenging circumstances in 2018 and 2019, with the threat of Brexit and stagnant demand contributing to a difficult market situation.
The recent announcement that the Chinese authorities have approved 14 meat processing plants across Ireland for export to China comes as a timely boost to the sector.
The inclusion of ABP Bandon to that list, joining Dawn Charleville as an approved beef exporter to China is an important development for Cork beef producers and secures Cork’s position as a major beef producing county.
This Government has placed a major emphasis on the development of our ‘Blue Economy’.
The ‘Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth’ strategy sets out two key targets; exceeding €6.4bn a year in turnover from our maritime sectors by 2020, and doubling the marine contribution to GDP to 2.4% a year by 2030.
Recent investment in marine infrastructure in Castletownbere will assist our fishing sector to meet the ambitious vision we see for our seafood sector. While fishing remains a staple in areas such as Castletownbere, Union Hall, and Ballycotton, Cork as also experienced growth in aquaculture production, which reached €35.2m in 2017, up from €28.6m in 2014 — an increase of 23%.
Cork is now a food destination. Our tourism offering, which includes the Wild Atlantic Way, has been augmented by a wonderful array of
delicious food to challenge anywhere in the world.
From taste trails to farm tours, visitor experiences to Michelin Star restaurants, Cork ticks all boxes. Bustling market towns with vibrant farmers’ markets are now commonplace throughout the county.
The Government continues to invest in Cork’s agri-food and fisheries sector in order to build on its success to date. Be it through the €156m paid directly to farmers through the CAP Basic Payment Scheme or the myriad of agri- environment schemes under the Government’s Rural Development Programme, supporting the primary producer is central in preserving the family farm structure
that underpins the success story of Cork’s food heritage.
Through Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland, Teagasc, Udaras na Gaeltachta, as well as
Cork’s city and county councils, food businesses have State-backed support and investment networks at their disposal, regardless of size and scale.
At the outset, I referenced promoting Ireland’s food offering abroad as being a key activity in my role as Minister for Agriculture, Food & Marine.
It has been an immense privilege to travel with Cork companies, be they Dairygold or Clonakilty, across the globe promoting our unique offering in terms of safe, traceable, and, importantly, sustainably-produced food.
Being a Cork man from a farming family, the role is made much easier in telling that story to foreign audiences, given that I am only too acutely aware of the commitment and passion of the farmers and fishermen from Charleville to Castletownbere who produce the best — so we can be the best.