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Minister Creed's address at UCD Agriculture, Food Science and Human Nutrition Career's Day Wednesday 14 February 2018

(Dean), Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to be with you this morning to officially open this Agriculture, Food Science and Human Nutrition careers day.  I must commend you on the way you are turned out today. I know it’s not normal student attire but you are obviously keen to make an impression with the employers that are present, or maybe on this feast of Saint Valentine you are trying to impress someone else, who knows! Either way, you have certainly dressed to impress!

This long standing annual event is one of the highlights for your Faculty and it is appropriate that as you come to the end of your studies here at UCD, you begin to think about life outside of Belfield, hard and all as that may be! But I want to assure you that you are entering a sector that is going through a rapid growth phase, with a level of energy and dynamism that hasn’t been seen for some time.

The Agri-food sector is of course Ireland’s most important indigenous industry. It provides over one hundred and seventy three thousand jobs, supporting rural and coastal economies and giving real and significant opportunities to graduates such as yourselves to realise their ambitions and aspirations.

The profound role that farming and food production plays in Irish society cannot be overstated. Farming is a fundamental human activity that not only connects man to nature but also transfers the knowledge of food security from generation to generation.

Our food is produced by thousands of farmers, fishermen and agri-food companies around the country and this locally produced food is exported to over 180 countries around the world. I mentioned earlier the fact that our sector is seeing a period of rapid expansion and this is particularly evident in our export growth. The total value of Irish agri-food exports was €13.5 billion last year, an increase of over 70% since 2009. Last year marked the 8th successive year of growth for total Irish agri-food exports and I can assure you that very few other sectors of the economy can attest to that type of growth. What is also heartening from the export figures is the fact that we are increasingly finding business in new international markets, where export value reached €4 billion for the first time in 2017. I, along with my Department and agencies such as Bord Bia and Enterprise Ireland, have been putting significant efforts in recent years into opening up new markets, and increasing access to current markets. I have led an intensified series of trade missions and inward visits to countries such as China and Singapore, Vietnam, Korea, North Africa, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Mexico, Japan, Korea and Turkey. This intensive diplomatic offensive will continue and in just over a week’s time I will lead a large delegation on a trade mission to North America. 

So you might ask why we are doing all of this international engagement. Well we know that the global food market of the future will be marked by increasing population growth and prosperity in developing countries.  However, advanced economies where we are gradually gaining access to also offer huge potential. Discerning consumers increasingly demand assurances of safety, nutritional value and sustainable production methods for the food they consume; as well as greater choice and convenience in food products. The Irish agri-food sector is well placed to meet these demands and we are determined to exploit and take advantage of the undoubted market potential that exists globally. However, we will need to remain focused on sustainability, competitiveness and innovation in order to grow existing and new markets.

In that regard, the ten year strategy for the sector, Food Wise 2025, plays a key role. This strategy, which was drafted in consultation with farm organisations, the food industry, environmental NGO’s, the retail sector and academics recognises that the three pillars of sustainability – social, economic and environmental – are equally important and as the sector continues to develop and grow, a framework of sustainability must become further embedded in the industry. Food Wise 2025 includes more than 400 detailed recommendations, spread across the cross-cutting themes of sustainability, innovation, human capital, market development and competitiveness, as well as specific sectoral recommendations. If these recommendations are implemented, the expert committee which drew up Food Wise considers that ambitious growth projections are achievable by 2025, including increasing the value of agri-food exports by 85% to €19 billion, and the creation of 23,000 additional jobs in the agri-food sector, all along the supply chain from primary production to high value added product development. And this ladies and gentlemen is where you come in.

Human Capital is one of the five themes highlighted in Food Wise 2025. It highlights the need for the attraction, retention and development of skills and talent right 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.  Investing in people and attracting, retaining and developing the best people is the best way for the sector to succeed and grow.  In a fast changing globalised economy, the premium and advantages to be achieved by applying the most up to date skills and techniques, attracting new, enthusiastic and trained people, and the ongoing development of the skills of those already involved in the sector will allow the agri-food fulfil its potential. More evidence of the expansion and growth that Ireland’s agriculture and food sector is experiencing is the fact that labour shortages have now become an issue at both farming and food industry level! The Food Wise process has allowed for good engagement with stakeholders on these emerging issues, and some useful initiatives are being progressed. Graduates such as yourself are in demand!

Before moving on from Food Wise, I want to address one of the other key themes of that report and one which will be of great importance to you – 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”.

Ireland is already one of the world’s most efficient food producers, in terms of carbon footprint per unit of output. However, we cannot deny the fact that our sector contributes over one third of total national greenhouse gas emissions and we are facing some very significant challenges in the period ahead to meet our targets set down in the EU 2030 Climate and Energy Framework. It is important to remember that we are doing a lot, probably much more so than many of our international competitors, to drive down the carbon intensity of our food production. Initiatives by my Department and its agencies include:

  •  support for national and locally led environmental schemes and 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 the environment;

However, we must do more. At a conference I hosted in Croke Park last December entitled ‘Food Wise – Challenge, Ambition, Opportunity’, I said and I reiterate today that we cannot allow any negative association between the agri-food sector and the environment to get traction. Any such association would be corrosive and damaging to the development of the sector.

I pointed out at that conference that this means we have to do two things. Firstly, we have to do more to articulate the tremendous contribution farmers are already making to the management and improvement of the natural environment, and the efforts of industry through Origin Green.

Secondly, we have to ask ourselves how we can do more, and configure public policy to help. Government has a leading role to play here, but we all have our part to play. As the next generation entering the sector with a high level of education and training, you will all have to contribute to this sustainability effort – it will in my opinion be a defining aspect of your careers in the agri-food sector and I want to impress that upon you today.

Our sector is one that constantly has to evolve and change in response to major European and International policy developments such as CAP reform, trade liberalisation and Brexit, as well as domestic policies relating to food safety, nutrition and health. I don’t have time today to address all of these, but I do want to touch on CAP reform and Brexit briefly because these will undoubtedly have profound effects on the sector you as Agriculture, Food Science and Human Nutrition graduates are entering.

You will be aware that discussions around reform of the CAP post 2020 have begun in earnest. In my view, it is critically important that the CAP of the future serves all of the citizens of the EU. It must support family farms and underpin the production of food to the highest standards of quality and safety. It will also be required to contribute to development of rural areas, the creation of employment and critically, to make a real contribution to environmental sustainability. I have launched a public consultation on this reform, including hosting a series of six public meetings around the country, in conjunction with submission of written contributions. This consultation comes against the background of the launch of the European Commission’s Communication on the future of food and farming last November. With legislative proposals underpinning the future CAP expected in June, Irish citizens have an opportunity now to have an input into this policy which has profound impacts for our farming and food sector. I would particularly like to hear the voices of young people like yourselves in this consultation process.

Brexit is probably the greatest concern for all of us. The research to date points to the fact that the Irish agri-food sector is uniquelyexposed. The Government is working hard on both the political negotiations and on mitigating the immediate commercial impact of Brexit. My Department has been deeply involved in a joined-up Government effort on the negotiations. Our objective is clear – unhindered trade with the UK. It is useful that the EU27 has prioritised issues relating to Ireland but the negotiations remain difficult and the outcome uncertain. Be assured though that this Government is committed to obtaining the best possible outcome for Ireland, for the agri-food sector and for you, the next generation of graduates.

In conclusions ladies and gentlemen, as the Minister responsible for this great sector, I want to emphasise that it is a dynamic, expanding and innovative sector that you are entering. You will be playing a key role in fulfilling its contribution to the national and global production of food, operating in our rural communities to provide sources of income and employment, but also in making optimum use of the natural capital and resources in our environment. As the next generation of skilled agri-food graduates, you have a particularly important role to play in addressing the challenge of sustainability and contributing to new thinking and approaches in smarter, greener more sustainable food production.

That just leaves me to say two final things. Firstly, to congratulate you on your fundraising efforts this week for two very worthwhile charities – Pieta House and 22Q11.2 Ireland1. I am aware that last year’s fundraising surpassed €50,000 for the first time and I wish you and AgSoc luck in going even further this year. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, I want to wish you all the best for your final exams in the coming months. It is a daunting prospect, and I rather you than me! But I have no doubt that you will all realise your own personal ambitions and have very fulfilling careers in the agri-food sector. Thank you.

ENDS

 

1 22Q11.2 is a type of chromosome disorder that is found in many seemingly unrelated conditions or syndromes. In 22q11, a tiny part of the chromosome 22 is missing at position 11. The effect of the deletion of this tiny part of chromosome 22 can be seen as a range of problems, ranging from mild to severe. Velo-cardio-facial syndrome (VCFS) is at the mild to moderate end of the range. Children with VCFS have problems with the structure and function of the palate, heart defects and a facial appearance with similar features to other children with the condition. There are various alternative names for VCFS, such as Shprintzen syndrome, conotruncal anomaly face syndrome and CATCH 22. Di George syndrome is at the more severe end of the range. Children with Di George syndrome have problems affecting the heart, calcium levels in the body, immune problems and occasionally palate disorders.