Farm Ireland

Sunday 25 March 2018

Viewpoint: We need the brightest and the best to drive agri-business

Double digit growth: Kerrygold in the US
Double digit growth: Kerrygold in the US
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

The ambition was palpable at the Agricultural Science Association's (ASA) gathering of hundreds of farm and agri-industry leaders in Kilkenny last Friday.

There was plenty of talk about the current woes of the dairy and grain industries and the pain being felt by farmers.

Yet there was also plenty of vision for growth and how we can add value to the raw materials leaving Irish farmyards.

A common theme was that with a finite pool of consumers in Ireland, tapping the all-important middle class markets abroad will be key for Irish farmers and agri-business.

Some of those involved in turning what were once small local names into global brands were on hand to share to their experience.

Hugh McGuire from Glanbia Performance Nutrition recalled as a child seeing the dairy by-product whey being sprayed onto fields.

What was once considered waste is now key to many of Glanbia's 80 different brands and products delivering around €880m in sales.

Kepak's Kevin Cahill outlined the company's ambitions for its new 'Stript' air-dried Irish beef protein snack in the US and Chinese markets which will hopefully take care of some of the forecasted cattle 'glut' on the horizon.

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On the same theme, Ornua's Kerrygold brand is recording double digit growth in the US and is still eyeing up potential opportunities in China.

There were many more examples of innovation and entrepreneurship being shown by the industry leaders to add value to the food chain.

Yet despite the obvious drive in the agri-business industry, it was startling to hear that the food industry is struggling to attract graduates.

Dolores O'Riordan, director of UCD's Institute of Food and Health, said the agri-food industry's ability to attract the top graduates is a major challenge.

Many of UCD's best food graduates are opting for pharmaceutical companies or the big accountancy firms rather than the food industry.

Prof O'Riordan said that while salary levels were one factor enticing people into the pharma or finance sectors, the opportunity for progression was also a deciding factor.

To address this issue, work is underway to extend graduate development programmes into the agri-food industry, with some of the bigger food companies already running successful schemes.

But any of the smaller food firms who have great ideas just can't access that talent.

More needs to be done to ensure we get the best and brightest to drive Ireland's agri-businesses forward, and deliver more payback from the factory gate back to the farmyard.

Indo Farming