The year has started with a mix of good news and depressingly familiar statistics.
The good tidings relate to the very clear progress that is being made on live exports; the depressing statistics point to the fact that farming remains the most dangerous work sector in which to be employed.
Let's start with the positive. The possible reopening of live export markets in the Middle East for the first time in more than 16 years is a huge boost for the beef sector.
The development is particularly welcome given the attitude and actions of slaughter plants over the last six months.
The factories have kept a firm lid on the overall kill and, in so doing, they have also managed to maintain a firm rein on prices. The extent to which prices have been held back is evident from the €150/hd to €220/hd differential that has opened up between the prices available to Irish finishers and those being paid to their British counterparts.
Those backing the reopening of the Libyan trade insist that they are merely testing the market at this stage. However considerable money, time and effort have been put into the venture, so the prospects would appear to be bright. There have also been suggestions that a second boat could be put in for approval by the Department, should the trade take off.
Farmers will certainly be hopeful that the initiative is successful. The experience of the last six months confirms again that getting outside competition into the beef market is essential, and this will certainly be the case this year given that industry observers expect up to 150,000 extra cattle to come on stream.
How many Irish cattle Libya is in the market for is unknown but at its height in the mid-1990s, the North African state imported more than 80,000hd. Price and payment will obviously be issues for farmers, but the good news is that live shipping is quickly going transforming from being a possibility to a reality.
Meanwhile, the fact that farming remains the most dangerous mainstream occupation is a continuing cause for concern. Figures from the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) confirmed that agriculture recorded the highest number of deaths for the third year in succession, with 21 people tragically killed on farms in 2012, compared to 22 in 2011.
The HSA has undertaken a high profile and hard-hitting campaign aimed at highlighting again to farmers the absolute necessity of safety standards around farms. But the sad reality is that this campaign appears to be failing.
Up to now farm organisations have opposed any linking of on-farm safety standards with cross compliance inspections.
Can they justifiably continue to do so?