Price volatility is a feature of the pig sector, and, while the sector performed strongly in 2017, there is no room for complacency writes Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed.
Pigmeat exports increased by 8 per cent bringing the total value of the overseas market to an estimated €790m, last year. Coming as it did from a base of €330m export value in 2010, the sector has shown exceptional growth over the medium-term – clear evidence of the accurate direction and focus of Food Harvest 2020 and Food Wise 2025 strategies. The pigmeat sector produced an output value of €520m last year; and the sector as a whole supports an estimated 7,000 jobs in the rural economy. The UK remains, by some distance, the largest destination for pigmeat exports accounting for 56 per cent of total market share in value terms, rising by 8 per cent to €445m, last year. The importance of the UK market to the sector, as with the sheepmeat sector, serves to underline the challenge which Brexit presents. Accessing and developing new international markets is a priority for me, in line with the market development theme of Food Wise 2025. With a focus on insight-led strategies, the sector can continue to grow its market export reach and ensure continued success in the UK and beyond into the future. The growth rate for Irish pigmeat exports to third country international markets has also been positive, rising to €199m for 2017, accounting for 25 per cent of total share. China is the largest third country market with exports of €102m last year, with positive prospects for improvements in performance in 2018 as the reconfiguration of the pig sector in China gathers pace. I have always admired pig farmers' ability to sustain their businesses in such a volatile price environment and since taking office I have been privileged to engage with your industry on ensuring its continuous development especially in the area of increasing its footprint in international markets.
Following the publication of the Pig Industry Stakeholder Group Report in 2016, work has been ongoing across the sector to implement the more than 60 recommendations of the report to further develop the sector in line with our Food Wise 2025 strategy. An implementation group is now meeting and has covered a range of topics including: animal health; animal welfare issues; market development; antimicrobial resistance; quality assurance; lean processing at farm level; and technological developments relating to laboratory testing on salmonella isolates in pigs. I am honoured to have been given the position of Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and it has been my privilege to witness first-hand on trade missions across the world the high regard in which the Irish agrifood sector is held. Sheepmeat and pigmeat are priorities for me in promoting Irish agri food around the world and I will continue to work to ensure that sheep producers and pig producers continue to have the opportunity to export their products into as many international markets as possible.