“There is no get out jail free card for Irish agriculture... all sectors must play their part,” Aidan O’Driscoll, the secretary general of the Department of Agriculture told the Agricultural Science Association (ASA) annual conference on Friday.

Ahead of a major United Nations conference in Paris this December, O’Driscoll said in his keynote speech that Ireland has become a “strong voice for climate change and food security... and until recently (Ireland had been) a lonely voice... but the good news is that that appears to be changing”.

O’Driscoll added that “much further negotiation” is required to translate into meaningful changes for agriculture ahead of the conference, where legally binding climate change targets will be set.

Future “bright, but not easy”

O’Driscoll also spoke about the policy challenges for Irish agriculture and the difficulties Irish farming must deal with in a volatile market place.

“We must look to the future optimistically but also realistically and with a resilience to deal with the challenges. The future is bright, it is promising but it doesn’t promise to be easy,” O’Driscoll said.

“The latest CSO (Central Statistics Office) figures show food exports of €11.3bn for 2014, a 29% increase since 2010,” O’Driscoll added.

O’Driscoll said that the UK remains the largest exports market for Irish food exports. However, there has been “rapid growth” in trade to non-EU markets with Asia - in particular China - the main destinations.

With regard to ongoing trade negotiations, O’Driscoll said trade deals have the potential to be very good for farming - yet he warned that there are dangers too.

“Freer global markets are in our interests,” O’Driscoll said.

Specifically, O’Driscoll said that there are concerns over Irish beef with any trade between the EU and the US.

Looking forward, O’Driscoll said he remains positive despite the challenges of climate change and market volatility.

“The future for global markets is very good but we must be competitive and innovative... (Ireland must also learn) how to reconcile Irish agriculture and climate change,” O’Driscoll concluded.

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