MII targets €200m growth in exports of Irish pigmeat

The Irish pigmeat processing sector is planning for substantial growth in the coming years as part of the National agri-food strategy, Food Wise 2025.

Meat Industry Ireland (MII) has recently published a comprehensive set of policy proposals and recommendation setting out its ambition for growth in the Irish pigmeat sector and the necessary action points to deliver on this growth.

In producing this policy paper ‘Irish Pigmeat Sector — Delivering on Food Wise 2015’, we believe that Irish pigmeat output can sustainably grow by 80,000 tonnes per annum, delivering up to €200 million in additional export earnings for the sector.

Also important, in terms of the sector’s contribution to National economic activity, we envisage that this growth in output can generate up to 1,000 additional jobs throughout rural Ireland. We are confident that these growth plans will boost producer margins and drive improved processor efficiency.

The Irish pigmeat sector is already quite efficient, well-structured compared to many European counterparts and operates at strong technical performance levels. Over the last five years, the sector has more than delivered on growth targets set out for it in Food Harvest 2020.

Irish pigmeat exports were valued at €570m in 2015, which represents 70% growth since 2010. This performance is a combination of volume and value growth, driven primarily by demand in international markets.

Unlike the other meat sectors, most of the recent growth in Irish pigmeat exports has been to international markets such as China, Japan, South Korea, and Australia. Irish pigmeat exporters have made substantial gains in developing business in the Chinese market over that last 10 years.

This has proved strategically important in the aftermath of the sudden loss of Russian market to almost all EU agri-food exports in 2014.

The Irish and EU pigmeat sectors have undoubtedly come through a very difficult two years, up to mid 2016. The Russian embargo on EU pigmeat had a significant market impact. Reduced producer returns did result in major cash flow difficulties on pig enterprises.

Irish pig prices were not insulated from this market turbulence, though price falls here were not as extreme as those seen elsewhere in the EU. Irish pig price is now above the EU average and well ahead of prices in key pig producing countries including Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and Spain.

While there are always challenges and shorter term market factors, including current uncertainties over Brexit, I firmly believe that the pigmeat industry has already demonstrated its capacity and determination to meet these challenges and to grow our sector.

As pork consumption worldwide grows steadily over the coming years, the challenge for the Irish industry is to share in that growth.

To achieve this growth ambition, in our view there are a number of important recommendation that need to be actioned at Government, State Agency and stakeholder level. Key amongst these recommendations are:

  • A comprehensive and immediate response by government and state aencies to both the short-term and longer term fallout from Brexit. The rapid devaluation of sterling against the euro since the Brexit vote at the end of June has significantly undermined the competitiveness of Irish exports to the UK. In the longer term, as Brexit negotiations proceed, the goal of the Government must be to maintain unfettered access to the UK market for Irish pigmeat and agri-food exports.
  • At farm level, significant investment is required in pig housing infrastructure to cater for growing output while at the same time continuing to enhance animal health and welfare standards. MII is specifically calling for a significant new allocation under the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Programme to support pig housing investment and that the investment ceiling be raised to €300,000 per unit;
  • A commitment from the Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine to significantly increase resources to drive the international market access agenda for Irish pigmeat. The uncertainties created by Brexit require a radical response to facilitate market diversification;
  • Urgent prioritisation of recommendations in the Pig Industry Stakeholder Group (PISG) report and a specific working group, with independent chair, to drive implementation; and:
  • An unrelenting focus on cost of doing business to underpin the competitiveness of the processing industry operating in a challenging global marketplace.

 

The Irish pigmeat sector is the third most important component of the Irish agri-food industry. It has demonstrated a strong growth capability over recent years and has the potential to deliver significant further expansion as part of the overall Food Wise 2025 strategy.

Cormac Healy is senior director of Meat Industry Ireland, the Ibec sector organisation that represents the Irish meat processing sector.


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