Irish food and drink exports topped €10bn last year — an increase of more than 40% on 2009.
The figures, contained in the fourth annual progress report on the implementation of the Food Harvest 2020 goals, show an agri- food sector that is booming.
The goals were developed in 2009 and 2010 — a time when food and drink exports reached just over €7bn, a drop of over €1bn on the previous year.
However, four years later the turnaround has been dramatic. With exports having grown by 42% to €10.3bn, the Department of Agriculture expects that the 2020 target of €12bn is well within reach and may be exceeded.
Food and drink companies currently account for a 30% share of the Iseq index, while the value of primary output has also risen sharply and at the end of 2013 was €6.1bn, which means it has virtually reached the 33% target set by Food Harvest.
Simon Coveney, the agriculture minister, said the figures were proof that the industry is enjoying a period of strong success.
“This is a growth sector with ambition and promise and more importantly, promise on which it is delivering,” he said. “We set ourselves stretch targets, to grow the value of our exports and value-added production by 40% by 2020. We are well on our way, as since Food Harvest was published in 2010, their value has risen by 24% and 23% respectively. This sector’s ambition is fuelling investment, employment and success.”
In the decade leading up to Food Harvest, employment in the food and drink sector fell by 1,500.
However, the fourth progress report notes that the last four years has seen the number of jobs generated in the sector rise by about 4,000.
Over the last four years, industry leaders, assisted by ministerial trade missions, and state enterprise agencies, have made investments in growth areas such as dairy, whiskey, and processed foods.
In the dairy and whiskey industries alone, investment plans of up to €600m are being actively pursued by industry leaders. Last year, Enterprise Ireland invested €203m in capacity, innovation and equity ventures to allow Irish agri-food companies become more agile in order to secure export sales on global markets.
“The clear evidence is that Food Harvest 2020 vision has been a notable success for both the sector and the economy. That being said, I am aware that we are on the cusp of a steep change in the industry and that there will be many challenges to be met, on beef and elsewhere, as we deal with the constantly changing policy environment,” said Mr Coveney.
“However, I am very confident that the capability, confidence and determination, consistently shown by the sector, will help provide effective solutions to issues arising.”
The report sounds some notes of caution, noting that not all sectors had achieved the same level of success. Beef and cereal prices are experiencing volatility, while aquaculture production has not yet risen at the rate predicted in 2010.
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