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2010 was a very positive year for the Irish agri-food sector following a very difficult year in 2009.  Exports in the sector have grown faster than many other sectors and are now worth close to €8bn per annum.  The cereals and dairy sectors had a particularly good year, while new markets were found for the forestry sector in the UK and for potatoes in Russia.  This shows the ability of the sector to adapt to new market needs and compete on a global scale.  The agri-food sector remains one of Ireland’s most important indigenous manufacturing sectors, accounting for over 6% of GVA and approximately 7% of national employment.  It is the primary outlet for the produce and output of family farms and includes approximately 600 food and drinks firms throughout the country that export to some 140 markets worldwide.

However the challenges ahead should not be underestimated.  Global competition presents a major challenge and exchange rates are still relatively unstable.  The future of the sector is also heavily dependent on the outcome of negotiations both within Europe and between the EU and other global economies.

In order to meet the challenges ahead, the Food Harvest 2020 report proposes a strategy of smart green growth that will map the future direction of the agri-food sector for the next decade, a period that will be crucial for the development of a dynamic and forward-looking industry.  The targets agreed by the industry include increasing the value of primary output from the sector by 33%, increasing value-added by 40% and increasing exports by 42%.  These are indeed challenging targets and it is a tribute to the hard work and global vision of the sector that such ambitious targets have been set.

Despite the economic difficulties the agri-food sector continues to make a significant contribution to the national economy, generating 6.3% of gross value added and providing 7.4% of employment.  Much of the employment in the agri-food sector, both direct and indirect, is dispersed throughout the country making it particularly important to rural areas. The industry accounts for 61% of total manufacturing’s consumption of Irish raw materials.  In addition the low import dependence and the low level of profit repatriation in the sector means that the net inflow of funds to the Irish economy is much higher than in other sectors.

The Annual Review and Outlook for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food 2010/2011 provides a reference for all those who are interested in monitoring the performance of the agri-food sector.  It provides an analysis of the structure and performance of the sector and it quantifies the benefits EU membership has had in terms of budget and trade.  It also provides a view of likely trends in the sector over the coming months.  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.  

Simon Coveney
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.