While many farmers are facing difficult market challenges in recent years, one in five agri-food firms have taken on new staff during the first quarter of 2016.
InterTradeIreland surveyed 119 agri-food firms across the island, and unearthed very positive findings for their January to March activities.
InterTradeIreland strategy and policy director, Aidan Gough, said: “The results show that agri-food firms are more innovative than most with 77% of business implementing innovative new processes, new product development and new branding or design in the past three years.
“Many agri-food businesses seem to be in a positive place but they are not ignoring the future.
“Almost two thirds (62%) are scanning the horizon to see what areas of opportunity might be out there; from developing new premium products to taking advantage of the health and wellness agenda,” he said.
For those agri-food firms with ambitions to grow outside their local market, the main obstacles appear to be concerns about the cost of going into a new market or the impact this might have in terms of management time and resources.
Those already exporting find different challenges in new markets with one in six agri-food firms (16%) saying that setting the right competitive price is a major challenge, while 13% cite compliance with regulations, and 11% of survey respondents say that they are challenged by financial resources.
The agri-food sector — which is the island’s largest indigenous industry — is now outperforming other sectors, including sales, employment, exporting and innovative activities.
More than half (53%) of agri-food companies grew in the last quarter versus 39% of all other firms.
In addition, 18% of agri-food companies surveyed have reported an increase in staff numbers this quarter with a further 27% planning to create job opportunities in the coming year.
While primary producers have been challenged by low prices being paid for dairy, beef, sheepmeat and other commodities, agri-food industry leaders are pointing to better times ahead.
“It is encouraging to see that despite challenges and volatility in global markets, Irish agri food as a whole is going from strength to strength,” stated Aaron Forde, Chief Executive of Aurivo, a globally-focused agri business headquartered in the north west of Ireland.
“As a leading agri-food business, we are delighted to contribute to the success of this strategically important sector for the island of Ireland. It is worth noting the importance of cross-border trade to the continuing success of this industry.
"Furthermore, the increase in innovation over recent years will continue to benefit the industry in the years ahead.”
Aidan Gough, Strategy and Policy Director at InterTradeIreland, added: “The growth in agri-food firms is most likely related to their strong tendency to be innovative and/or actively exporting.
"The majority of agri-SMEs are selling across the border or exporting outside the island, which is twice the number of firms across the full spectrum of sectors.
“Hearteningly, for InterTradeIreland, 27% found the experience of cross-border trade influenced them to a large extent to go into other new markets.
“Many companies have told us that the export pathway towards markets in Great Britain and much further afield in the EU, Middle East and North America, can begin right here on our doorstep by trading across the island.”