4,000 jobs could be created in agri-food sector
Up to 4,000 jobs could be created over the next decade under ambitious plans to grow farm, food and fishing businesses, the Taoiseach claimed today.
A report on the food sector said the industry can help boost economic recovery, predicting the value of food and fisheries exports to rise by more than a third to €12bn a year by 2020.
Brian Cowen pledged the Government's full support to deliver on the proposals.
"At a time perhaps in the last decade when we've seen employment reduced by 1,500 in the agri-food sector, we see the prospect of 3,500 to 4,000 jobs being created by 2020 under these plans," Mr Cowen said.
The Food Harvest 2020 report said the agri-food and fisheries sector is the country's most important indigenous industry, directly employing 150,000 people and contributing €24bn to the economy annually.
It also deals with the drinks and forestry sectors and among its 209 recommendations it calls for "smart, green growth".
Chairman of the report group Dr Sean Brady said: "Smart - that means being innovative, investing in research, focusing on what the consumer wants, applying lean manufacturing techniques and ensuring we have the scale at every level to maximise our cost competitiveness.
"Secondly, we must be green. We must build in a meaningful way on our green image to scientifically prove, and then market, the environmental sustainability of our food production systems.
"This is a key competitive advantage for us if we can prove to our international customers that we really are more sustainable than other potential suppliers."
The plan's targets include:
:: Increasing export value of the farm, food and fisheries sector from €7bn to €12bn by 2020 - up 42pc;
:: 50pc increase in milk production;
:: 20pc increase in beef production;
:: Boost the value of primary production by farmers and fishermen by €1.5bn.
The Irish Farmers' Association welcomed the report's publication and pledged its support.
President John Bryan said the €12bn export and €1.5bn primary output targets were achievable with Government help.
"The cornerstone of the 2020 Strategy is to increase production at producer level across all sectors," he said.
"Government support in assisting competitiveness and supporting vital farm schemes, is critical for this to happen."
Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith said the sector can be at the forefront of the state's economic recovery.
"It (the plan) is a comprehensive and considered roadmap for the development of Ireland's key indigenous sector," he said.
"The targets set by the Committee are challenging, but they are also achievable," he said.
The Irish Dairy Industries Association, which represents dairy producers, urged the Government to remove remaining barriers to growth.
Senior executive Michael Barry said: "The vision for growth is credible if backed by the right government policies. Increasing output requires a renewed focus on competitiveness."