Farm Ireland

Monday 26 February 2018

Ireland's rain to provide key advantage

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

The end of milk quotas and global population growth has been touted as offering expansion opportunities for the agriculture sector that have not been seen since the 1970s.

But there are serious differences between the two eras and this will have to be borne in mind by farmers.

This was one key message included in a wide-ranging speech delivered by Aryzta chief executive Owen Killian last Thursday evening at a function to mark the 70th anniversary of the Agricultural Science Association (ASA).

While agriculture remained the 'bright star' of the Irish economy and had navigated the ravages of the Celtic Tiger reasonably well, Mr Killian maintained farming in the future would be more difficult than in the 1970s.

He pointed out the CAP of 40 years ago provided farmers with a closed market and guaranteed high prices.

The new reality is different. Farmers have to compete on world markets where the supply/demand balance is so fragile that price volatility is inevitable.

Mr Killian warned that while the opportunities provided by helping to feed seven billion people were exciting, the risks were higher and demands of consumers were greater.

However, he said Ireland was well placed in terms of the major constraints to food production; namely soil, carbon impact and water. Pointing out that Charles Darwin had estimated it takes earthworms 100 years to produce an inch of topsoil, Mr Killian said fertile soil was becoming a scarce commodity and Ireland had plenty of it.

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But he identified Ireland's water supply as potentially its key advantage.

He said a recent UN study found that Ireland's water footprint for beef and dairy produce was one third that of China, the US or Brazil.

The Aryzta boss said that in an age where sustainability was increasingly important, Ireland had a serious competitive advantage since we were essentially exporting water-intensive food from our 'sea' of surplus water.

Interestingly, he questioned whether the carbon or water footprint was the more critical or strategic and he said the authorities here should not discuss carbon emissions without also factoring in water.

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