Kevin Tuck, Managing Director, Alltech Ireland tells Irish Farmers Monthly the future is bright for Irish farmers
Next month, some 1,000 farmers from around the world will visit Ireland as part of the Alltech Global 500 in October. The future of beef and dairy will be the focus of the event, which will be held outside the US for the first time. According to Kevin Tuck, Managing Director, Alltech Ireland, this two-day event will further raise the profile of Ireland and Irish agriculture abroad.
"The perception of Ireland at the moment is amazing and we, as a country, have to capitalise on it. We really have to grasp this opportunity." Despite the recent horsemeat scandal, Ireland's reputation as a clean food producing country has remained intact, he adds, both at home and abroad. "The goodwill towards Ireland and everything Irish, worldwide, is tremendous. In places like China, and other markets we are heading to, there is a desire to stock Irish products. We have to turn that into a unique selling point to make people do business with us rather than other people."
At home, he says, the current confidence within the industry is also hugely important. He points to recent Agri Aware research, which found that 88 per cent of the population believes the agri-food industry is key to Ireland's successful economy. The recent rise in CAO points for agricultural courses indicates that young people see the agri-food industry as one of promise.
Such confidence is reflected in Alltech's recent doubling of the size of its headquarters in Dunboyne, Co. Meath. The new extension will be officially opened in October but, according to Kevin, it will give new and improved space to research and development, which is a key driver in Alltech's growth strategy.
"We're hugely confident about the future. Animal nuturition and health still remains 95 per cent of our business in Irish agriculture." He says the confidence in the industry, as shown by the likes of Glanbia through its recent investments, reflect the fact that Ireland is in a good position as the end of milk quotas approaches. However, he says, the question who is going to buy that milk and how it will be marketed abroad is yet to be determined. "There are many other countries that have their eye on that market."
He points to sustainaibility as one of our unique selling points. "The issue is massive. Our carbon footprint will be important and how that will tie in with additional production. We can easily have more milk by milking more cows, but that won't help our sustainability. To create more milk from the same number of cows is the way forward. However, that will mean a slight move away from our complete grass-based sysetm." Most of the emissions that lead to our carbon footprint comes from cows – the make up of their feed and the ingredients in it. If you can improve your feed efficiency, you can reduce your methane output, and also increase income." This, he admits, is a communciation challenge. In response, the company has developed a calculator that will show individual farmers what they are doing at the moment, and what can be improved, with a 'what if' tool.
Overall, Irish farmers, he says, are very receptive to good ideas. "I think Irish farmers are faster on the uptake of new information, when it is explained and communicated properly, than many of their counterparts worldwide."
But, the stumbling block, he says, is often communication. "Ireland does top-class research, but getting the message across to people can, sometimes, be an issue."
Alltech's own desire to understand the industry led to the company recently resurrecting its crop science division. "We realised that, on larger farms worldwide, the business begins with crops. If we want to be truly involved we have to be involved from the beginning." At home, Comex has taken on the distribution of the crop products. Kevin says one of its products has seen a 10-17 per cent improvement in yields this year which is a greater response than genetically modified crops give.
The demands of the food industry in the past four or five years, he says, have driven increased production through alternative protein sources. "We can't afford to be feeding vegetable protein to animals who only use 25 per cent of it. That's a waste of a valuable resource."
Ireland is in a tremendous position at the moment, he concludes. Increased demand should compliment increased production, he says, and our reputation abroad should be underpinned by our scientific knowledge. "It's much better if you have science behind you than just an image. The confidence behind the knowledge needs to be really strong. Our commitment to research is what is behind everything we do at Alltech."