Ireland’s food exports are likely to be back on track when Bord Bia will report on the industry’s 2021 performance later this month.
Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue has revealed that the latest Central Statistics Office trade figures for the end of the third quarter showed that 2021 has been a period of value growth for Irish food exports.
With food commodity prices at a relatively high level, and the UK Government postponing new January customs and import requirements, there is a good chance that last quarter food exports will be high enough to continue the annual momentum that has seen exports of food and drink from Ireland increase by 16% in value since 2016.
In the Dáil, Minister McConalogue said the value of agri-food exports was up €711 million or 6.8% in the first three quarters of 2021, compared to the same period in 2020. It was up €446m or 4.2% on the same period in 2019.
He said dairy produce, beef and beverages constituted the most valuable commodity categories, accounting for €6.6 billion, or 59% of the value of agri-food exports from January to September in 2021. The nine-month value of €11.18bn compares with last year’s full annual total of €13bn.
At €1.7bn, the value of beef exports has been virtually unchanged in the years 2019 to 2021. Dairy exports averaged €3.8bn in the same timeframe.
Irish sheep meat is having another consecutive year of significant growth. According to the CSO, the value was up almost €15m, or 6%, compared to 2020, and nearly €50m, or 20%, 2019, compared to 2019.
Minister McConalogue said there has been an overall trend over the last three years of a gradual shift away from reliance on the UK market for the four main meat species and dairy produce.
Nevertheless, exports of Irish agri-food products to the UK have recovered compared to earlier in the year, and are up for the first three quarters of the year by €421m, or 11.3%. September was a good month for food exports, with CSO statistics indicating that agri-food exports had been only 5.8% up at the end of August.
And the statistics indicate that exports of Irish agri-food products to the UK jumped from 9.5% ahead (of 2020) at the end of August to 11.3% ahead at the end of September.
Examining figures for exports to Britain, Minister McConalogue said, 2021 exports to the end of August were up by €34m or 1.3%, having recovered from being down 20% at the end of March.
Meanwhile, exports to NI have been exceptionally strong, up 39%, or €272m, compared to 2020, by the end of August. Exports to Northern Ireland were up 19% by the end of March.
Also pointing to a lift in Irish exports was data from HM Revenue & Customs showing the UK imported 28,500 tonnes of fresh and frozen beef in September, 34% (or 7,000 tonnes) more than was shipped during August, or during September in 2020.
Volumes increased from all key suppliers, most notably from Ireland (up 5,100 tonnes), according to data, which is collated by the UK Government.
The Minister said the 2021 food and drink trade figures demonstrate the remarkable resilience of these Irish sectors, in the face of market disruptions such as Brexit and Covid.
He said his Department and its agencies will continue to remain focused on maximising Irish agri-food exports globally: “I’m extremely proud of the fact that we produce enough food to feed nine times our population.
"Our agriculture sector employs nearly 165,000 people here. We want to make sure these jobs are secure into the long-term.”
Irish exports will be boosted by Bord Bia’s recent winning of the contract to promote EU beef, lamb, dairy and horticulture across Asia, Europe and the US in three campaigns valued at €13.4 million for the next three years. Since 2016, the value of Irish food and drink exports to Asia has increased 14% to €1.4 billion.
Tara McCarthy, Bord Bia chief executive, welcomed the funding and said that Bord Bia's input will widen the recognition of Ireland as a secure supplier of safe and sustainably produced beef, lamb and dairy.