Farming organisations have pointed to the Department of Agriculture’s reporting on the value of Irish agri-food exports as showing the importance of farmers to the wider economy.
The Department reported that food and drink exports hit €19bn in value in 2022 - an increase of over three-quarters in one decade - and that the agri-food sector directly employs 165,000 workers.
Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) president Tim Cullinan said that it is farmers who prop up all of the economic activities that occur downstream in the agri-food supply chain.
He stated that the growth to a record value for exports shows the resilience of farmers.
“Last year was a turbulent one for the sector, with some significant external shocks driving input costs to record levels,” Cullinan commented.
“This export performance shows the resilience of producers in the face of unprecedented challenges. Their efforts in delivering this increase in exports should not be underestimated.”
The IFA leader called on policymakers at national and EU level to recognise farmers’ contribution to society, as policies have started to “drift away from food production”.
“As the next CAP begins to take shape, the focus has to come back to the farmer,” Cullinan continued.
“Without farmers, we wouldn’t have an export profile that delivers €19bn to the Irish economy and supports tens of thousands of jobs in rural Ireland,” he said.
‘Most sustainable on the planet’
Also reacting to the Department’s figures was Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) president Pat McCormack, who criticised Government’s approach to agri-environmental policy.
McCormack warned of carbon leakage occurring if overly-restrictive rules are placed on Irish dairy farmers, which he stated are world leaders in sustainability.
“The Irish dairy sector was worth nearly €7bn last year and is the one sector in which Ireland indisputably leads the world in terms of technology, technical excellence, marketing and scientifically-proven environmental sustainability,” he said.
“That’s where we are now through the combined efforts of all involved in the sector and, actually, we are even getting better in terms of water quality and climate impact, as new tech often developed here in Ireland comes on stream.
“No one disputes that Ireland is the most sustainable location on the planet to produce milk and the Government’s response to that is to systematically shut down Irish production and watch while that is moved overseas to other producers with much higher emissions and greater environmental impact.”
Maintaining €3bn worth of beef exports is not a given for the sector either, McCormack warned.
“Our beef sector is worth over €3bn in exports and we now have the zombie trade deal that is Mercosur back on the horizon, despite the fact that everyone - farmers and environmentalists alike - has predicted that the increase in South American beef production involved will almost certainly have catastrophic consequences for the rain forests.”
The ICMSA president concluded by saying that if the Mercosur deal goes ahead, neither Ireland nor the EU will have credibility in discussing the climate crisis ever again.