SO why did the future head of a nation of 1.3 billion people bother to visit a small dairy farm in Clare yesterday? Vice President Xi Jinping is interested in food-production systems here because ensuring a secure supply of trustworthy food is one of the key challenges facing burgeoning economies such as China, India and Brazil.
It's for exactly this reason that our agri-food sector is one of the most optimistic places to be right now. Ten years ago, many thought the farm sector here was a sunset sector with profits falling in the face of cheap food imports.
That's all changed with the rise and rise of the so-called 'Bric' economies (Brazil, Russia, India and China). As millions of people in these economies see their incomes rise, they want more of what the west already has. In most cases, this starts with a switch to richer diets based more on meat and dairy products than traditional grains and vegetables.
That's why beef prices have increased by 30pc over the last two years, while our dairy sector is predicted to grow by 50pc over the next eight years.
But how is this going to lift the rest of the economy out of the hell-hole it has found itself in? Isn't agriculture supposed to be a shrinking part of modern developed economies?
The best place to start convincing yourself of the impact that a booming agriculture sector can have on an economy is the local mart.
Chances are you'll struggle to find a spot in the car-park, jammed as it will be with a healthy mix of tractors, jeeps and cars. And while the cattle trailers that are invariably attached might look a little worse for wear, the number of 2011 number plates present is striking.
But it's not just the motor dealers that are doing well on the back of the commodity boom that has lifted all the boats in the agriculture sector.
Take Sixmilebridge Mart in Co Clare. It re-opened for business after a massive push by the local community to buy it off the previous owners.
Now, a premises that had weeds growing through it 12 months ago is providing part-time employment for up to 30 locals on mart days.
Every local business benefits -- from the local pub that gets a few extra customers in for a quiet pint, down to the locals who sell home-baked treats and vegetables on the stalls dotted around the edge of the crowded car-park.
But the booming trade in meat, milk and grain is only part of the reason behind the current optimism. Changes in the policy pipeline are also likely to play in Ireland's favour.
The dairy sector is a case in point. Our 17,000 cow men have been licking their lips in anticipation of the effective deregulation of the dairy sector in 2015. This is when the EU milk-quota regime that capped our output here for the last 30 years is finally dismantled.
The figures show that one of our natural God-given competitive advantages is, somewhat paradoxically, the rain. It allows farmers to grow grass almost all year round. As a result, we can grow more of this cheap, green feed on a year-round basis here than pretty much anywhere else in the world bar New Zealand.
So when the quota shackles come off in three years' time, the Irish dairy industry is better positioned to benefit than the rest of Europe.
The movers and shakers in the sector are already well aware of this. The biggest dairy co-op in the country, Cork-based Dairygold, has already seen its supplies increase by 15pc over the last two years. It is hatching plans which could eventually see it pour €130m into developing extra processing capacity at its three processing sites at Mallow, Mitchelstown and Mogeely.
If everything goes according to plan there will be an extra 2.5bn litres of milk being produced annually in the Republic by 2020. At current prices that equates to an extra €825m in milk cheques flowing into dairy farms in every community and every county.
The beef and sheep sectors are gearing up for expansion, too. The big imponderable is, of course the future prospects for commodity, prices. The last two years have seen huge price increases in almost every farm output.
The price of milk is up over 50pc, beef and lamb prices are up 30pc, while grain and wool prices have doubled in many cases.
The current high is partly driven by the erosion of the production base in farming. The steady decline in the basic profitability in the sector during the first decade of the 21st Century, while everything else boomed, lured farmers' sons away from the land.
Huge falls in sheep and beef numbers were seen not only in Ireland, but in the UK, the US and across the western world. Some of it moved to cheaper economies, such as South America, but now the tide has turned.
The developing economies need all that they can produce, and more. The classic forces of supply and demand have kicked in with a vengeance and Irish farmers are benefiting greatly from it. Even farm land is increasing in value here again, seemingly oblivious to the ongoing carnage in the rest of the property sector.
But how long will it last? If China or India gets a cold, it could send prices tumbling very quickly.
The key for Irish food producers is to concentrate on the products they can produce cheaper or better than anybody else. Dairying is an obvious example. But plans to develop a huge 350-acre, deep-sea fish farm off the west coast that could double our national salmon output in a single stroke is another example of the potential we have yet to unlock here.
Granted, bigger production units might not be everybody's cup of tea, but they certainly have the capacity to generate profits.
The world's population is growing by over 200,000 a day, while at the same time prime agricultural regions of the world, such as Europe, are losing productive land at a rate of 680 acres on a daily basis.
Somebody somewhere is going to have to squeeze more food out of what land we still have.
Why not us?