Fertile forecast for Ireland’s agri-food sector

The future for Ireland’s agri-food sector looks positive this year, according to a review of the sector conducted by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Agri-food exports were ahead of last year for the early months of 2014, although in the main commodity sectors of beef and milk, there may be some reduction in prices from the very high levels achieved in 2013.

Launching the review and outlook, Minister Simon Coveney highlighted the role the sector had played in aiding economic recovery.

“Agri-food exports increased by 9% to a record value of €10bn in 2013, accounting for almost 12% of all goods exports,” Minister Coveney said.

“The sector accounts for around 9% of total employment and makes a particularly significant contribution to employment in rural areas. Capital investment in agriculture has risen 79% in the last three years, with investment in farm buildings increasing by 58% to €460m in 2013 alone.” However, the Minister warned of challenges ahead.

“Ireland is a small, open economy and volatility in world commodity prices can have serious adverse consequences in terms of lower prices for our produce or higher prices for our inputs,” he said. “I urge farmers to plan for contingencies, including price volatility, unforeseen weather events, and plant and animal disease risk.”

Minister Coveney said substantial progress had been made in achieving the targets set out in the Food Harvest Strategy, of increasing the value of primary output by one-third, and the value of both exports and value-added by around 40% by 2020.

“Progress to date has been very positive. The value of overall, primary output is already more than three quarters of the way to its FH2020 [Food Harvest 2020] target, while the value of both food and beverage exports and GVA [gross value added] is half-way there.”

The Minister added: “This publication provides a reference for all those who are interested in the performance of the agri-food sector. I expect the agri-food sector to play an integral part in the recovery of our economy and the continued viability of our rural and coastal areas”.

The review looked at preliminary results from the 2013 National Farm Survey which were published in May and noted that average family farm income in 2013 was almost unchanged from 2012 at €25,600. However, this average concealed dramatic differences between farm types: average dairy farm income increased by 31%, while all non-dairy farms experienced declines in average income in 2013 compared to 2012.

The review also looked at the environmental impact of Ireland’s agri-food sector, noting that despite improvements in recent years, emissions of greenhouse gases from the agricultural sector remained far in excess of the EU average. “In the developed world, only New Zealand has a higher proportion of emissions from agriculture,” says the report which warns that in the absence of abatement measures, emissions would increase further to 10% above 2010 levels.

Farm figures

Only 13% of Ireland’s 123,526 farmers are women, compared to 36% in Spain and 56% in the Galicia region with similar agriculture characteristics to Ireland.

According to findings conducted by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, female farmers are slightly older than their male counterparts with an average age of 61, compared to 56 for men.

The majority of male and female farm owners are between 45 and 64.

However, 41% (6,399) of women who owned farms in 2012 were over 65, with 31% of these over 80, which may indicate that they received the farm when they were widowed.

Only 27% of male farmers were over 65.


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