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Minster Creed's address at the AIB Agri Seminar, Fermoy, 22 January 2018


I am delighted to be here in Fermoy to speak to you this evening.

The agri-food sector is Ireland’s main indigenous industry, an industry which is strategically important to the Irish economy, built up by thousands of stakeholders - farmers, fishermen, forest owners, agri-food companies and entrepreneurs. This knowledge and experience is underpinning and driving the sector’s continued growth and the important contribution of the sector to the Irish economy.

At the start of 2017, we faced into  very uncertain times, the threat  of Brexit and  increased protectionism , proposed  changes in trade and taxation policies in the US  and  uncertainty in the  EU economy,  coupled with the very real challenges related to  exchange rate  volatility .

It is in this context that I was very pleased to announce that last year marked the 8th successive year of value growth for total Irish agri-food exports, to reach a record of €12.6 billion.

  • Exports to the UK rose by an estimated 7 percent to some €4.4billion despite the ongoing weakness of sterling.
  • Exports to other EU countries have risen to over €4billion accelerating last year’s growth rate.
  • The value of our exports to international markets has hit a high of €4 billion for the first time, showing success of our focus on these international markets.

This growth in value could only have been achieved with a coherent national shared vision and strategy for the sector, which all of us, from producers to processors, exporters, policy makers and  agencies have signed up to. These positive results  show us that we are on our way to reaching the challenging projections set out in our sector’s strategic 10 year plan - Food Wise 2025, including:

  • growing the value of agri-food exports by 85% to €19billion:
  • and creating 23,000 direct and indirect jobs all along the supply chain.

 Market access /diversification

At Government level, we have put in place very practical supports to address the challenges facing the sector, particularly in relation to Brexit. The additional resources to Bord Bia have enabled it to develop a comprehensive route to market network, by providing consumer led insight and market focussed research together with their informed presence on the ground. In addition, their report on market prioritisation, commissioned by my Department, helps us to sharpen our focus on market access prioritisation. My Department continues to deepen its relationship with authorities in other countries to facilitate the opening of markets for the sector.

The industry’s drive to broaden export reach to destinations outside of the EU is paying dividends with strong growth now seen in emerging and international markets.

The detailed market access work carried out by my Department, and facilitated through trade missions, has significantly increased the number of markets open to Irish agri-food exports. At the end of the day, however, we can only open the markets. It is the food industry which seeks out, secures the opportunities, makes the contracts and then services them.  This is an industry that works together and we can see the results. 

Trade Missions

From my part I am proud to have supported the Irish food and drink industry in their endeavours in international markets during 2017 – by leading 3 trade missions to countries and emerging markets such as the Gulf States taking in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.  In June I led a trade mission to the USA and Mexico, and most recently Japan and the Republic of Korea.

I and my Department will continue to support Irish food and drink exporters in 2018, through a programme of Ministerial led trade missions, supported by technical and official trade meetings. I have already announced my intention to visit Canada and the USA in late February/early March, with the support of Bord Bia and the agri-food and drink companies.

Through the market prioritisation exercise, funded by my Department, we will identify and target other suitable new international markets for Irish food and drink in a sector specific fashion to which I will lead missions later in the year.  I envisage that these will include China and Indonesia/Malaysia.  While these markets will in some cases be slow burners, it is an important part of widening our reach and sourcing new markets in a post-Brexit scenario. Irish agri-food has an excellent name on international markets and it is important that this work continues to find new markets for a growing industry.

The close working relationships between my Department, the development agencies, producers and industry as we see in action on these missions are a key strength of the Irish food, drinks and horticulture sectors. 


There is no doubt that Brexit has loomed large over the agri-food sector during 2017, and will continue to do so in 2018.

I and my Department have worked hard to identify, and to consider solutions to, the potential barriers that could fracture the strong, integrated trading relationship that currently exists between Ireland and the UK.

Indeed, the ongoing process of stakeholder engagement, has contributed greatly to our understanding of the scale of the challenges ahead and the range of possibilities available to us to address them. This has fed into the whole-of- Government approach that is being taken to dealing with Brexit.

Our trading relationship with the UK in the agri-food sector can be summarised in one simple set of statistics - the UK is the largest external supplier of food and drink to Ireland, but more importantly from our point of view, we are the largest such supplier of food and drink to the UK.  With a population of 66million to feed, that is an important place to be.

Brexit will remain a major challenge in 2018 and coming years as we move our way forward through the rounds of complex negotiations. It is for this reason that I and my Department have stated from the very start that our key ‘asks’ from the negotiations should be (i) continued free access to the UK market, without tariffs and with minimal additional customs and administrative procedures; (ii) a minimisation of the risk from UK trade agreements with third countries; and (iii) on the fisheries side - the maintenance of current access to fishing grounds in the UK zone in the Irish Sea, Celtic Sea and north of Donegal and protection of Ireland’s quota share for joint fish stocks. 

We all recognise the huge task involved in this but we also see the enormous opportunity present in UK markets. We intend to continue to demonstrate our commitment to the UK market and pursue those opportunities relentlessly.

We have no intention of stepping back from the UK market. On the contrary, we will redouble our efforts to build on our consumer reputation and strong relationships to maximise growth and supply high quality and innovative products to our neighbouring island.

To that end I have had meetings with many of the major UK food retailers over the last twelve months or so and I am convinced that the integration of the supply chains between Ireland and UK will be a key strength as we plot our way through the implications of Brexit.

And while there is a long way to go in the Brexit  negotiations, I believe that  December’s political agreement  between the EU and the UK on island of  Ireland issues,  makes the prospect of a sensible withdrawal agreement, transition, and future trading relationship,  much more likely.

Brexit Loan Scheme

I will shortly launch a new Brexit Loan Scheme which will provide affordable, flexible financing to Irish businesses that are either currently impacted by Brexit or who will be in the future. I will do this together with my colleague the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

The Scheme will make up to €300 million of working capital finance available to SMEs and mid-cap businesses. Given their unique exposure to the UK market, my Department’s funding ensures that at least 40 percent of the fund will be available to food businesses.

The finance will be easier to access, more competitively priced (at a proposed interest rate of 4 percent), and at more favourable terms than current offerings. This will give Brexit-impacted businesses time and space to adapt and to grow into the future. The new Scheme will be delivered by the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) through commercial lenders and is expected to be in place by March of this year.

I have also secured funding of €25 million for my Department to facilitate the development of new Brexit response loan schemes during 2018 for farmers, fishermen and for longer-term capital financing for food businesses.

We all understand the unique exposure of the agri-food sector to Brexit impact. Uncertainty about the final outcome can make planning for the future difficult. But one thing we can be sure of is that both food businesses and farmers need to focus on competitiveness and innovation in order to survive these challenges and grow their business sustainably in the future. Supporting lower cost flexible finance is a key Government response to assist the sector in this process.

International Trade/Mercosur

Of course, Brexit underlines the importance of pursuing and developing new markets for Irish agri-food exports. This is an ongoing and central component of the development plans that we have for the sector.

Free Trade Agreements negotiated by the European Union are also vitally important in helping us to establish and develop new export markets. However, such agreements must be balanced and must serve both our offensive and defensive interests. We will continue to adopt a prudent and appropriate approach in exploiting potential opportunities and defending ourselves against potential threats.

So, for example, we welcome the opportunities that the European Commission’s recently completed Economic Partnership Agreement with Japan gives rise to for the Irish agri-food sector. Similarly, we have judged that, while there are positives and potential negatives in the EU’s trade agreement with Canada, on balance it represents a favourable outcome for the agri-food sector.

However, when it comes to the EU-Mercosur negotiations, it is clear that there is a very significant threat to the Irish and EU beef sector. I have been very vocal on this issue, and have worked closely with other Member States to ensure that Ireland’s sensitivities are well understood by the European Commission. The Taoiseach has also spoken to President Macron and to Commission President Juncker on the matter.

We have seen what appears to have been significant progress in these negotiations on the margins of the WTO meeting in Buenos Aires in December, and pressure is building for them to be concluded early in 2018. It is therefore important that Ireland and other affected Member States, continue to advocate a balanced approach by the Commission, which acknowledges in particular the sensitivities of Member States, as I will continue to do in relation to our particular sensitivities on beef.

I would also like to acknowledge the efforts of Commissioner Phil Hogan in ensuring that the difficulties presented by these negotiations in the agriculture area are fully understood by all involved.

Food Wise strategy and implementation process

Food Wise 2025 identifies the significant growth which has occurred in the sector over the last few years, and the future global growth opportunities which Ireland is well placed to benefit from including: the ending of milk quotas; our reputation for food safety and controls; our natural competitive advantage in sustainable grass-based production; and a world class agri-food industry, backed by strong State support services.

The theme of Food Wise 2025 is “Local Roots, Global Reach”, reflecting the importance of gaining a deep understanding of what consumers - often in distant markets - really want, and communicating those messages back to Irish farmers and food companies. Equally important is to communicate key messages about what makes Irish food unique to the international market.

Food Wise implementation is very much a live and continuously updated process. I chair the High Level Implementation Committee (HLIC), involving senior officials from relevant Departments and State agencies. The HLIC meet quarterly to review progress, as well as engaging with stakeholders on key topics. This collaborative approach in bringing together stakeholders from all sides of the industry, along with NGOs, academics and officials, has given a strength and depth to the strategic focus of Food Wise 2025, and this will be particularly important in responding to the challenge of Brexit.

Food Wise themes

The five themes of Food Wise 2025 – Environmental Sustainability, Human Capital, Competitiveness, Market Development and Innovation seem more relevant and important than ever in the terms of our Brexit response.

Environmental Sustainability: Food Wise 2025 states that “Environmental sustainability and economic sustainability are equal and complementary – one cannot be achieved at the expense of the other”.

The long-term ambition for the agriculture, forest and land use sector is to move towards an approach to carbon neutrality which does not compromise capacity for sustainable food production.

We must not underestimate the challenge of reconciling our growth ambition with the protection of the environment. Government have recently established a new joint initiative with industry which will see the roll out of a Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme involving 30 advisors.

I established a Food Wise Environmental Sustainability Committee. The Committee will engage with industry and other stakeholders on the identification and implementation of policy interventions, to ensure our environmental obligations are delivered, and report back to me on its findings. 

The ambition that Ireland should be a global leader in sustainable food production, building on our natural advantages, is shared by the Government, farmers and food industry alike. Initiatives by my Department and its agencies include:

  • support for national and locally led environmental schemes including the Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme known as GLAS which has been very successful in terms of uptake with over 50,000 Irish farmers approved into the scheme. This Scheme delivers on public goods by encouraging and supporting actions at farm level that promote biodiversity, protect water quality and help combat climate change.
  • There are just over 1,600 farmers in the Organic Farming Scheme and last year we made payments amounting to €8m to these farmers. Minister Andrew Doyle has recently announced the establishment of a new Strategy Group for the Organics Sector under the banner of the Food Wise Strategy.
  • I launched the new €25m Hen Harrier Programme in early December. This is an innovative scheme which is looking at ways of marrying the conservation of this critically endangered bird, with the needs and wants of farmers in the areas concerned. This scheme marks a significant change to the way we approach environmental challenges on the ground by encouraging local communities to find and implement solutions that work for them.
  • Knowledge Transfer programmes under the Rural Development Programme, worth almost €4 billion over 7 years;
  • the Forestry Development Programme;
  • the Origin Green sustainability programme;
  • and a strong research focus on agriculture, climate change and environment;

All of these measures contribute to improving the environmental, as well as the economic and social, sustainability of the sector and its important to recognise the role the farming community play through their management of the land.

The Human Capital theme of Food Wise highlighted the need to attract, retain and develop people with the right skills and talent all along the supply chain. Investment in education is crucial for the success of Food Wise 2025 and the success of the sector as a whole. Our farms are the bedrock on which this whole multi-billion Euro sector rests. Skills and labour shortages are becoming an issue at both farming and food industry level, perhaps inevitably as we approach full employment, and are of course reflective of the growth opportunities in the sector.  The Food Wise process has allowed for good engagement with stakeholders on these emerging issues, and some useful initiatives are being progressed.

Farm Incomes

The CSO estimates that aggregate farm income increased by almost 34% to €3.5 billion in 2017. Family farm income for 2017 reached almost €32,000, an increase of 35% on 2016. This increase was driven mainly by a significant increase in dairy farm incomes to over €90,000.

Direct payments made by my Department averaged €17,000 per farm, providing a strong support for farm incomes and a fundamental hedge against commodity price volatility.

Direct Payments

The Government, through my Department, pays out over €1.7 billion per annum directly to farmers under a range of EU and Exchequer funded supports. This money is injected straight into the rural economy, stimulating economic activity and providing support farm families.

  • The Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and Greening annually are worth some €1.25 billion to farmers.
  • These payments are particularly critical in maximising cash flow, especially for those affected by challenging market conditions in many sectors and poor weather in some areas.
  • That is why for 2017 I  prioritised issuing these payments at the maximum allowable rate of 70% for the advance payment and that it would issue from the earliest date provided for under EU rules, 16th October.
  • As a result of this, payments worth in excess of €700 million issued on 16th October to 111,000 farmers. Over 90% of applicants got their payment on day one. To date, a total of €1.248 billion has been paid out to farmers.


The CAP supports the continuing success of Ireland’s agri-food sector. It provides a valuable contribution to our largest indigenous sector which employs more than 173,000 people [or 8.6% of total employment]. It accounts for 7.6% of GDP and contributes some €26 billion in turnover. It provides vital support to our rural and coastal areas where alternative employment options are not readily available.

The CAP has evolved considerably over the years in response to changing market, consumer and environmental demands.

Discussions on the CAP post-2020 have been ongoing since mid 2016 and will intensify over the coming months. This comes against the backdrop of the publication of the Commission’s Communication Paper, “The Future of Food and Farming”. This sets out the Commission’s future vision for CAP, post-2020.

Greater subsidiarity for Member States is one of the big themes of the Communication and should be seen as a positive development, once it delivers simplification and reduces administrative burden for all.

The Communication also considers that the environmental ambition of the CAP must be increased. The future CAP has a major role to play in helping Member States meet their climate change and environmental obligations. However, if we expect farmers to deliver public goods, they must be appropriately remunerated for doing so.

To deliver on the level of ambition set out for the CAP post-2020 will require a strong CAP budget. This is something I will be fighting for in the upcoming negotiations on the next Multi Annual Financial Framework [2021 – 2027].

I will launch a public consultation process to obtain your views on the Common Agricultural Policy post 2020. In addition, the Department will be hosting a series of meetings countrywide, in the coming months to discuss the future CAP. It is important that Ireland’s voice is heard in future debates on the CAP post-2020 and I strongly urge you to participate in these consultations, so as to frame Ireland’s position. This is important to ensure the continued development of the Irish Agri Food sector.

Farm Safety

I cannot let this opportunity pass without referring to the worrying increase in accidents and fatalities in the farming sector. My Department has introduced measures designed to increase awareness and education around the importance of farm safety. We must all work together to ensure the safety of all involved in this sector. This will involve a change in attitude and behaviour. One life lost is one too many.

In conclusion, I look forward to working with you in these interesting times for the agri-food sector. Food Wise 2025 shows the world that the Irish agri-food industry has a shared vision and a strong sense of direction and optimism about its future and I am convinced of its strategic importance to enhancing rural development and supporting the overall economy of Ireland.

Thank you.