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Brexit and Sustainability – two biggest challenges facing agri-food sector

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Derrie Dillon, ASA president.

According to a survey of professionals working within Ireland’s agri-food sector, Brexit and Sustainability are the two biggest challenges facing the industry today. The findings of the annual Agricultural Science Association (ASA) Member Survey were released in advance of the ASA Conference ‘From Trade Wars to Consumer Trust: The Challenge for Agri-Food’, which takes place in the Killashee Hotel in Naas, Co. Kildare today (Friday, September 7).

When asked about the biggest challenge for the agri-food industry over the next 10 years, respondents were equally as concerned about the impact of Brexit (37 per cent) as the challenge of meeting sustainability targets (36 per cent). The concerns about the fall-out from Brexit were consistent with last year’s results, up just one percentage point from 36 per cent in 2017. However, there was a marked increase in the level of concern around how the industry will deal with the environmental regulations associated with meeting sustainability targets, up 11 percentage points from 25 per cent in 2017.

In addressing other challenges faced by the industry, 76 per cent of respondents said that they were concerned that anti-agriculture consumer movements will have a long-term negative impact on the farming and food industry. When asked about the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), 46 per cent said that the current CAP was not fit for purpose, with a further 31 per cent unsure.

Brexit

On the fall-out from Brexit, ASA members listed several issues as ‘very concerning’, including the introduction of a hard border (56 per cent); disruption of integrated supply chains (49 per cent); trade tariffs (47 per cent); increased competition in the UK market (35 per cent); and non-tariff barriers, eg divergence in UK regulations and product standards (32 per cent).

Commenting on the findings relating to Brexit, Michael Wallace, professor of agriculture and food economics, UCD, said: “Brexit continues to be the most prominent and acute source of uncertainty for the agri-food sector. Regrettably, the possibility of a chaotic, ‘no-deal’ Brexit appears to be increasing. This would be devastating for our vital agri-food trade with the UK due to the prospect of tariffs and extra costs associated with border checks and customs procedures. The sensible option for both the UK and the EU will be to avoid this outcome but the political dynamics of the negotiations are precarious. In the absence of clarity, businesses must plan for a range of scenarios and the agri-food industry needs assurance of appropriate mitigating policy responses in the event of a chaotic Brexit.”

CAP

In relation to CAP, a significant lack of comprehension about the new draft European Union CAP reform legislative proposals is apparent with almost half (48 per cent) ‘not sure’ if they were a move in the right direction. Meanwhile, 35 per cent of respondents believe that they are a move in the right direction. On specific aspects of the CAP 2020 proposals, 70 per cent of members believe that greater subsidiarity (more decision-making power by individual member states) is a positive and 72 per cent agree on the inclusion of risk-management tools.

Career progression

As the professional body for agri-food graduates in Ireland, the ASA annual member survey also provides an important benchmark for tracking industry sentiment and career progression. Some key points from the 2018 survey included:

  • 90 per cent said they would encourage graduates to pursue a career in the industry;
  • 47 per cent of self-employed professionals have had a salary increase in the last 12 months, up from 30 per cent in 2017;
  • 67 per cent of self-employed professionals invested in some form of training or professional development in the last 12 months;
  • 60 per cent of those in paid employment received some form of external training paid for by their employer in the last 12 months; and
  • 50 per cent of graduates surveyed would be interested in pursuing a career in research within the sector.

Derrie Dillon, ASA president said: “It is really encouraging to see that the industry is continuing to invest in training and upskilling its professionals which is key to our continued competitiveness on the world stage. It is also promising to see our graduate members express such a strong interest in pursuing careers in research which is fundamental to the continued growth of the sector. It is our people that make us leaders in agri-food and building the human capital of this generation and the next is instrumental to the continuing transformation of our industry.”