Strong grounds for optimism in agriculture, claims Cowen
THERE are strong grounds for optimism in Irish agriculture as the number of exports and competitiveness increase, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said yesterday.
The Government has set ambitious but achievable targets for expansion in its Food Harvest 2020 report, which offers an analysis of industry, consumer and global trends, that the whole agrifood sector would have to work together to achieve, he said.
But already there were positive signs, Mr Cowen added, on the final day of the Ploughing Championships in Athy, Co Kildare, yesterday. "There is a lot of ground for optimism in the food industry generally; our competitiveness has improved.
"When I spoke to Enterprise Ireland yesterday, it said that 70pc of the orders that were lost in 2009 have been regained in 2010, with every prospect of the remainder being regained in 2011 -- so we've got to keep along that path."
The agrifood sector would have to work on a number of fronts to make the industry more competitive and market itself better, including relaunching a 'Brand Ireland' approach, said Mr Cowen.
Asked if the policies of the departments of agriculture and environment were antagonistic -- with one favouring more intensive food production and the other focused on environmental protection -- Mr Cowen said their aims were not mutually exclusive.
'Smart green growth' based on wholesome and sustainable food production would be the basis of future expansion, he said.
Around 42,000 people attended the championships yesterday, bringing total attendance for the three days to more than 182,000.
"We are hugely pleased with the level of support from exhibitors and businesses, and in particular the number of young people who attended this year which was quite remarkable," said National Ploughing Association managing director Anna May McHugh.
"It is also good to see there is some light at the end of the tunnel, as the mood among farmers is much more positive than a year ago. We had got too fond of being negative," she added.
More rain and heavy mud underfoot meant that a number of car parks had to be closed yesterday, resulting in severe traffic jams on most routes to the event. This led to hour-long tailbacks and delays getting in and out of the site at Cardenton, just a mile outside Athy.
However, the organisers praised local farmers who rowed in at the last minute to make other fields available for parking.
Ms McHugh confirmed that the event would return to Athy next year for the third time in a row. This is particularly fitting as it will be the 80th anniversary of the Ploughing Championships, which began in Athy.
Meanwhile, the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) yesterday called on banks to give farmers loans at decent rates to allow the sector to exploit the growth potential outlined in the Government's Food Harvest report, which wants to boost dairy output by 50pc and beef output by 20pc over the next 10 years.
"From talking to farmers over the past three days, there is deep concern that the banks are increasing rates and charges on existing loans, and failing to show enough interest in financing the planned expansion, especially among committed farmers," said IFA president John Bryan.
Mr Cowen also presented an award on behalf of the National Ploughing Association to veteran journalist Ray Ryan, who is retiring from the 'Irish Examiner' after many years as its agriculture correspondent.