Mike Brady: 'How Irish farmers can become world class in their field'
Our agri-food industry needs dynamic leadership to deliver on its natural strengths in the global marketplace
In today's world of instant news and media we are bedevilled with populist short-term thinking.
If we observe Donald Trump in the USA and the incumbent Boris Johnson in the UK, it has become increasingly fashionable to lie and disseminate 'fake news' to climb all the way to the top in the corridors of power.
This populist short-term thinking presents a serious challenge for the agri-food industry both in this country and further afield.
Agriculture by its nature is a slow-moving industry. Breeding better plant varieties, robust and resilient livestock, and protecting the environment do not happen overnight.
There has to be a long-term strategic plan.
In Ireland, politicians, policymakers, lobbyists and representative organisations are preoccupied with putting out fires or grabbing a news headlines.
This deflects attention away from the long-term sustainable path for the industry.
The top 10 short-term issues affecting Irish agriculture are listed below:
- Beef profitability
- Mercosur trade deal
- Green-house gas emissions
- Animal welfare standards
- CAP reform
- Water quality
- Current prices
Short-term issues are important, but a robust, well-planned long-term strategy for the industry places short-term issues into perspective.
This is why we must focus on choosing the best long-term strategy for the future of the Irish agri-food industry. This strategy must go much deeper than the list of aspirations and goals set out in Food Harvest 2020 and Food Wise 2025.
It must drill down into core actions and micromanage who will do what to achieve the desired outcomes.
When planning this strategy there are some key global realities to take into account:
- The world is short of food
- World population is rapidly increasing
- Climate change is real and must be halted or reversed
- Consumers expect good animal welfare standards
- Food security and traceability are important
- Ireland has a reputation for good, wholesome, safe food production
- Consumers like inexpensive food
All industry policy decisions must be taken in the light of these global facts. Short-termism must be considered secondary to the long-term strategic industry goals for the industry at all times.
It will take a strong leader or government to devise and implement such a plan for the country.
However, when one looks at the natural advantages of the agri-food industry in this country, it really is a no-brainer to devise and implement such a plan.
Strengths of the Irish agri-food industry
- Excellent farmers, well educated, experienced and ambitious
- Plenty of available land for food, forestry and biodiversity
- Production of world-class traceable food from farm to fork
- Perfect climate for clean food production
- A joined-up industry from farmers to advisors, researchers, processors, marketers and consumers
- A good reputation internationally, as a food producing nation
- Excellent education and advisory services
- Experienced food processors and marketers
This is the definition of a dream industry in which to do business.
Yet most Irish people, and more importantly Irish farmers, do not realise their natural strengths on the global playing pitch.
We often hear of footballers and rugby players glibly described as 'world class' after one or two good performances. Our farmers and food producers are truly world class as they perform all the time. We have to promote and use this obvious advantage in our next strategic plan for the industry. We need a leader to think big for the industry.
The result should be a dynamic, detailed strategic plan for the whole industry. This plan should go further than ever before.
After taking into account the global realities outlined earlier, the plan will drill all the way down to farm level.
The country should be looked at as one big farm.
Questions such as what is the optimum number of dairy cows, what is a sustainable future for beef farmers, what is the correct level of forestry in Leitrim should be more than addressed - they should be micromanaged by incentivisation and regulation.
A comprehensive strategic plan for the Irish agri-food industry will ensure we rise above short-term populism and reactionary policy decisions and elevate Irish farmers to being world-class leaders in their field.
Mike Brady is managing director at Brady Group agricultural consultants & land agents; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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