I had not realised that Ireland sent food to the Netherlands in the aftermath of World War II in 1945, as they suffered a famine. To commemorate the gift, a special plaque has a place of honour on the wall of the office of the Secretary General of the Irish Department of Agriculture. This was just one of several memorable moments at a special conference held by Teagasc, to commemorate and look back on 50 years of the Irish experience of the CAP. It has been a rollercoaster of policy changes, driven by political, productivity and environmental developments within Europe and the wider world.

The range of contributors varied from the key participants at national and international level, with the Commissioner Mairead McGuinness joined by Minister Charlie McConologue and his French counterpart, Marc Fesneau. We could hardly have had a more appropriate guest, as the Irish and French attitudes to agriculture have been pretty identical down through the years.

The changes have been seismic, driven by access to the entire EU market, enormous changes in national employment opportunities and adoption of technology based on research geared to Irish conditions. That said, the productivity gains across the individual sectors have been markedly different.

Pigs have been the stand-out leader. Those who have survived and grown in the industry amount to only 280 farmers with an average of 700 sows, but they are producing 3.8m pigs from 150,000 sows, compared to 1m pigs from 100,000 sows in 1973.

There have also been huge productivity gains in dairying and tillage. For example in dairying, average milk solids per hectares have gone from 558kg in 1995 to 931kg in 2021, while average wheat yields have gone from 4.2t/ha in 1973 to 10.1t/ha in 2022. Beef has been the laggard, with carcase output per ha of 271kg actually declining to 223kg in 2021.

We can only assume that the decline in beef output per acre can at least be partly attributed to the reduction in guaranteed prices in the 2000s and their replacement with direct payments regardless of output. In fact, in the earlier days of direct payments, productivity gains were discouraged by rigid numerical limits and even extensification payments.

These constraints certainly diluted the effectiveness of any potentially enhancing research efforts, though the Irish beef processing industry has hugely developed.

This conference covered so much ground that I hope a record of its proceeding is published, including the thoughtful contributions of farmers and researchers at the coal face of commercial reality.