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Sunday 4 December 2016

Irish agri-food sector needs more innovation and business acumen

Published 28/10/2015 | 02:30

EU Commissioner Phil Hogan with Pat Burke, Grant Thornton and Liam Downey, former head of Teagasc at the launch of the Agri-Food Strategy Group report last week Photo: Mac Innes Photograph
EU Commissioner Phil Hogan with Pat Burke, Grant Thornton and Liam Downey, former head of Teagasc at the launch of the Agri-Food Strategy Group report last week Photo: Mac Innes Photograph

Farm expansion on its own won't be enough to develop a sustainable agri-food industry according to a new report published by the Department of Agriculture's Agri-Food Strategy Group.

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Increasing farm efficiency is a key element of the report said UCD professor, Michael Monaghan.

"To become more competitive in international markets, Irish agriculture will need to raise its technical and business capacities and the marketable quality of its produce, to ensure both its environmental sustainability and future economic success," he said.

"To achieve these twin goals, our report calls for significant investment at both EU and Member State levels in the development of sustainably-competitive food production systems."

Agricultural education is another major part of the report and the strategy group has highlighted it as its most important long-term policy.

Ex-Teagasc director Liam Downey said: "Perhaps the most important longer-term strategy advocated in the Agri-Food Strategy Report, is its call for a re-appraisal of educational and training provisions throughout the Sector.

"This is needed to ensure that the next generation of farmers and agriculturalists are better equipped to deal with increasingly complex business management decisions and multi-dimensional technical demands in the industry."

The report was launched by EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan and he stressed that innovation was crucial to the sector.

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"This is a sector which must innovate constantly in order to meet emerging trends in consumption and production. EU policies offer many opportunities for the food sector to stimulate innovation and ensure continued growth.

"Under the Rural Development Policy, pilot projects can now be financed to encourage experimentation while minimizing risk."

Tipping point

Patrick Burke, a partner at Grant Thornton accountants, said that the Irish agricultural sector is at 'tipping point' and that a revision of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) could prove to be important to the sector.

"A revision to the design of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has a potentially important role to play in stimulating and accelerating the development of solutions to the challenges inherent in food production in the 21st century.

"Irish agriculture effectively stands at a 'tipping point' in the necessary development of a new approach to food production that can successfully navigate significant technical, financial, organisational and educational challenges," Mr Burke said.

The main strategic decisions outlined in the report covered topics including food chain integration, environmental resilience and enhanced agri education and training.

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