Foreword for the Farmers’ Handbook by Minister Simon Coveney

I am very pleased to have been asked once again to introduce the Farmers Handbook. Like previous editions,  the 2016 Handbook contains a very useful and wide range of financial, management, planning and schemes information which is invaluable to all involved in farming.

I am very proud that the agri-food sector has grown to be among the most important and successful indigenous industries in this country.  It has enjoyed a resurgence in both profile and economic impact over the past several years. Of course this did not happen by chance; it is the result of collaborative efforts by the various stakeholders.  Given its importance, geographical spread and export reach, the agri-food industry clearly has a very significant role to play in Ireland’s ongoing economic development. The agri-food sector is Ireland’s largest indigenous industry, contributing €26 billion in turnover and accounting for 8.6% of employment.  Ireland produces many times the volume it consumes of products such as beef, butter and cheese. We export food to 175 countries worldwide. In 2014, the value of Irish food and drink exports increased by 4%, to reach €10.45 billion, representing an increase of €3.2bn in value since 2009, or total growth of 45% in that time.  Overall agri-food exports totalled €11.3bn in 2014, including forestry and animal hides and skins. As Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine I am committed to the continued development of the agri-food sector at this time of tremendous opportunity.

We saw a major change in dairy sector with the abolition in April of milk quotas which had been in place since 1984.  This is providing both opportunities and challenges for all stakeholders; farmers, processors and manufacturers, agri-business and exporters. While the number of dairy farmers has fallen from around 65,000 when milk quotas were first introduced to 18,000 today, efficiency has improved dramatically and output has remained relatively static, constrained as it was by quotas.  That is all changing, however, and the reward will be freedom to farm, growth in output, and growth in exports and job creation in rural Ireland.  I am confident that the Irish dairy sector is well positioned to take advantage of this

opportunity. However, price volatility in dairy and other commodities has been a reality for a number of years now and the current downward cycle has led to a difficult few months for suppliers.  The overall long term prospects for the dairy sector remain very positive, with increasing worldwide consumer demand, particularly in the middle and far-east driven by population growth as well as growth in the middle class and an appetite for Western, protein rich diets, which includes dairy.

Five years ago my Department launched Food Harvest 2020, which set out smarter and greener ways to deliver sustainable growth and recommended a suite of actions, on a sub-sectoral basis, to support the industry’s development.  Its successor, Food Wise 2025 sets out a ten year plan for the agri-food sector. It identifies smarter and greener ways to deliver sustainable growth and recommends actions to best support the sector’s development. It identifies the opportunities, challenges, advantages and constraints ahead and devises an enabling strategy that will allow the sector to grow and prosper.  The Agri-food sector is Ireland’s main indigenous industry, an industry which is strategically important to the Irish economy, built up by thousands of stakeholders – farmers, fishermen, forest owners, agri-food companies and entrepreneurs over the past decades, stakeholders who have a wealth of knowledge and experience.  This knowledge and experience is underpinning and driving the sector’s continued growth and the important contribution of the sector to the Irish economy. Food Wise 2025 includes more than 350 separate recommendations for action, spread across cross-cutting themes of innovation, human capital, market development, sustainability and competitiveness affecting the Irish agri-food sector.

A new Farmers’ Charter of Rights was agreed earlier this year.  The Charter is effectively an agreement between the Department and its farmer customers on delivery targets for the Department’s schemes and services and brings clarity to the arrangements around inspections. It also sets out in very clear language, the timelines, application, payment and appeals processes and is a very useful reference for farmers.  The charter will remain in place until 2020 coinciding with the lifetime of the current Pillar I and Pillar II schemes.

May I wish the Farmers’ Handbook 2016 and its readers every success and hope that this year’s edition will prove as popular a publication as ever.

Simon Coveney T.D.
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine