At the annual Agricultural Science Association (ASA) conference in the Lyrath Hotel in Kilkenny today, the ASA and Bord Bia released the findings of an industry-wide study on the current challenges facing the industry.
Among the key findings were that three in four ASA members (professionals working within the Irish agri-food industry) believed that sustainability has become a ‘catch-all buzzword and has lost meaning’. The research also highlighted the need for a joined-up industry approach to ensure the financial, economic and social sustainability of the entire agri-food sector.
The ASA conference was addressed by leading figures from the international agri-food sector including Phil Hogan, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development and Gregg Doud, Chief Agricultural Negotiator, in the Office of the United States Trade Representative. The day-long conference examined the challenges currently facing the industry and a potential way forward in light of immense global and local trade pressures.
Commenting on the research Amii McKeever, ASA President said: “Sustainability has become a much maligned word – trotted out as a catch all marketing tool with the result that there is much ambiguity about what it actually means. We need to challenge the concept of a sustainable agri-food industry. I would argue we need to change our language to talk about the need for a viable, renewable and profitable industry which is at the same time economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. And this requires an industry-wide collective approach. Together is better, the fractures in our industry serve no one. We need to harness the collective minds, energies and ambitions of all key stakeholders and work together to find a way forward. And we need to be prepared to adapt to change, to continue to think outside the box and to maximise the potential of every acre of land and every available opportunity to diversify in order to future-proof our industry.”
Among the challenges facing the industry, according to ASA members were:
· Global Trade Pressures - 73% of ASA members think that Brexit is one of the biggest challenges, with the Mercosur deal which will allow beef imports from Brazil also featuring strongly
· Sustainability – 66% believe that achieving business growth without negative environmental impact is the top challenge facing the Irish food industry regarding sustainability, closely followed by meeting GHG Emissions Targets (59%). More than six out of ten ASA members agree that increasing production while lowering environmental impact is achievable in next 5 years however.
· Price and Income Volatility – 69% agreed that price and income volatility is considered a major challenge for future growth. Three quarters (73%) of those surveyed believe low farm income is impacting the viability of the profession. · Reducing Farm Emissions – over half of ASA members believe that reducing farm emissions is one of the biggest challenges to the agri-food industry. · Skilled Labour Shortages – 32% believe attracting young people to the farming industry is a significant issue facing the industry. Nurturing a skilled workforce by investing in our new generation of farmers and agri-food workers is vital.
The research also highlighted the pressures the agri-food industry is facing as a result of changing consumer habits with a focus on health and wellness, and changing diets. Tara McCarthy, CEO, Bord Bia, said: “Consumer demand is certainly changing the way our agri-food industry approaches product development and communicates our credentials. Origin and local produce are top of mind today, with consumers believing knowledge of these enable good food choices. In this context it is heartening to see the Bord Bia Quality Mark continues to perform well in the study. Through our Sustainable and Quality Assurance schemes, Irish farmers and producers will continue to actively meet and surpass consumer expectations and enhance the industry’s collective reputation for excellence. It is through proof points like these, highlighting the contribution of Irish food and drink to sustainability goals, that we will continue deliver differentiation for the Irish agri-food industry and capture value from the market”.