"People will look back on this decade as a golden age for Irish food."
This was the Minister for Agriculture's Simon Coveney's summing up of the world of opportunity that is opening for the Irish agriculture sector.
Minister Coveney was speaking at the launch of the Government's latest commitment to food and forestry research, where 51 projects were announced as the recipients of over €26m of funding.
"Ireland is moving from being an exporter of mere commodities to one that exports premium products, not just of food, but also in terms of knowledge and innovative services," he said.
"There was a time when the Department of Agriculture was very much about farmers and fishermen, but it is now much broader than that.
"I want Ireland to be a food Silicon Valley and research and development (R&D) is central to that. We need R&D that can double the output of this sector over the coming decade," added the minister.
The Government has sunk over €100m into food research over the last two years, in everything from fluke control to reducing the cost of dealing with waste water from dairy processing.
The majority of this is going to Teagasc and our universities, but some is also being allocated to research institutions north of the border.
"I think we've an obligation to partner with Northern Ireland and I'm confident that we'll benefit too. Northern Irish facilities, data and researchers that aren't available in the South are being put at our disposal," said Minister Coveney.
Over €13.5m is being awarded to Teagasc, with UCD securing €6.6m and UCC, NUIG, TCD and DIT sharing another €6m.
It follows research grants of €6.3m that were announced last May, along with €37.5m for Teagasc research and €8.4m for the Marine Institute during the last 12 months.
Minister Coveney believes investment in the food sector is vitally important to sustain economic activity in rural areas.
"The beauty of the food sector is that it stimulates the economy all over Ireland, not just Dublin.
"Three or four extra jobs in Connemara are worth more than 20-30 jobs in Dublin in terms of maintaining the social fabric of the country," he said.