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Speech by Brendan Smith T.D. Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries & Food at the launch of Food Harvest 2020, 19 July 2010

Good morning Taoiseach, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to begin by expressing my appreciation to all of you for attending the launch of this report. I trust you found Sean's presentation as interesting and informative as I did. His presentation provides a good overview of what is a very comprehensive and wide-ranging report.

With over 200 recommendations, this report is very detailed.

That detail is vital. This is a report which sets the scene for our agri-food, drinks fisheries and forestry sector for the next decade. Getting our future priorities right will be fundamental to growing our most valuable indigenous industry. The report captures the considerable complexity of this sector. It underlines its unique and special position within the Irish economy, and it illustrates the potential which exists for this sector to grow even further. I am particularly pleased that the Committee has provided concrete suggestions towards which Government and private enterprise will work.

Committee Role

In this regard, I would like to echo the words of An Taoiseach and thank Sean for his work as Chairman of the 2020 Committee. My thanks also go to the Harvard Business School and to all the members of the Committee for their absolute commitment to this process and delivering cogently on the Terms of Reference provided.

The depth and breadth of experience contained within that Committee undoubtedly adds to the import of this report. To my mind, this is one of the most diverse groupings we have ever brought together to form a strategic vision for the agri-food sector. The result of that deep and broad expertise is here today for all to see.

Report - general

The title of the report, "Food Harvest 2020", neatly encapsulates the Committee's conviction that this sector can deliver real returns and be at the forefront of our economic recovery. If we make the correct decisions now, then the harvest will indeed be great. But this 2020 exercise isn't just about sound-bites. It is a comprehensive and considered roadmap for the development of Ireland's key indigenous sector.

The targets set by the Committee are challenging, but they are also achievable. While it is important to aim high, it is equally important to demonstrate how those heights can be reached. This report, I believe, does just that.

The Committee has shown that Ireland can grow its exports of food and beverages by one-third to €12 billion annually. We can increase the value of primary production by our farmers and fishermen by €1.5 billion and value added in processing by €3 billion.  The ending of milk quotas in 2015 represents an exceptional opportunity to grow our milk output by an estimated 50%. We can, and must, improve our cost competitiveness by 20%, relative to our competitors.

But all of this will not happen by chance, we all have to be committed to make it happen.

Green Growth

To achieve these goals, the Committee sets out a vision based on Smart, Green Growth. Ireland's agri-food sector has always been associated with green, natural and sustainable production. But we cannot take this association for granted. At a time when these qualities are increasingly demanded by both society and consumers, it is vital that we are more proactive in demonstrating our green credentials. We must prove that what we are doing is sustainable and then deliver our green message to the rest of the world in a co-ordinated and targeted fashion.

Smart Growth

I am also pleased that "Acting Smarter" is central to the approach adopted by the Committee. It should help to dispel the myth that building a Smart Economy involves concentrating on one or two of what are generally considered to be the "high-tech" industries. People often forget how technically advanced our farmers are, or the cutting edge technology that is used to add value to the food we produce. We have invested heavily in research and facilities over the years so that now, our farmers, our fishermen and our food companies are among the most technically advanced in the world.

This is an industry where we have real strength and real opportunities. This, more than any other reason, is why we must support its growth and development. The challenge is to build on this existing knowledge and capability so that our industry remains at the forefront of our international competitors. Acting smarter also means rethinking our business relationships, targeting new customers, increasing skill levels and being innovative along every part of the supply chain, from farm to fork.

An all encompassing report

There are many more dimensions to this report than we can go into here today, not least the need to improve our competitiveness. The report deserves to be carefully studied by everyone in the agri-food sector. Not just because it sets a strategy, which I and the Government have accepted, but also because this is a plan in which everyone in the sector has a role to play.

The Committee should be commended for producing a report which is not just a wish-list to be presented to the taxpayer. Rather, the Committee has attempted to think afresh about how existing resources, both public and private, can be better utilised. In this regard, we all will need to play our part. Government alone cannot deliver on this vision.

Delivering results

For the government's part I will establish and chair a very focused high-level group to ensure effective, joined-up implementation, including consideration and prioritisation of how best to pursue the recommendations made.  This group will also act as a clearing house for the wide range of issues that arise in relation to the development of the sector, as recommended in the report.

As Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I am committed to leading and driving the implementation of this report by bringing together all of the relevant arms of the state in pursuit of the one goal. I will also fully involve sectoral representative bodies and other external expertise as required. Our approach to implementation will be flexible. I am open to new ways of interacting and doing business, where that will achieve results. Importantly, the approach will also be transparent and accountable.

In conclusion, let me again thank everyone who has contributed to the production of this report. A lot of hard work has been done, but as with all of these things, this is just the beginning.

There is a renewed interest in our sector amongst the wider society, and a growing recognition of the role it can play in our economic recovery. This is an important and welcome change but it also poses a challenge for us to deliver on these expectations.  It is a challenge the sector is fully capable of meeting, and one that I and my colleagues in Government are determined will be achieved. And I know that our determination is fully matched among those working in the sector itself.   Together I firmly believe that we can achieve the ambitious vision for "smart, green growth" and the targets set out in this report, and I fully commit myself to lead that effort.

Photo for Minister's speech at launch of Food Harvest 2020

At the launch of the Food Harvest 2020 Report in Backweston Campus, Co Kildare were (left to right) Dr Sean Brady, Chairman, Brendan Smith TD, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, An Taoiseach Brian Cowen TD, Ciarán Cuffe TD and Sean Connick TD, Ministers of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Photo for Minister's speech at launch of Food Harvest 2020 - 19.07.2010 
At the launch of the Food Harvest 2020 Report in Backweston Campus, Co Kildare were (left to right) Dr Sean Brady, Chairman, Brendan Smith TD, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and An Taoiseach Brian Cowen TD.      

Photo for Minister's speech at launch of Food Harvest 2020 - 19.07.2010 
At the launch of the Food Harvest 2020 Report in Backweston Campus, Co Kildare were (left to right) An Taoiseach Brian Cowen TD and Brendan Smith TD, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

 

Date Released: 20 July 2010