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ASA Conference highlights key challenges facing agri-food sector

Taoiseach says Irish agri-food industry needs to be ‘more resilient than ever’ in dealing with ‘huge uncertainty’ over next year.
An Taoiseach Micheál Martin

Speaking at the annual Agricultural Science Association (ASA) Conference, which was live-streamed from the Maryborough Hotel, Cork, today, An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin said that while the Irish agri-food industry is facing dealing huge uncertainty over the next year, he is optimistic for continued growth in the sector.

The event, sponsored by FBD Insurance, also featured an in-depth analysis on the latest developments on international trade and Brexit from Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney and contributions from leading Irish and international agri-food experts. Minister for Agriculture, Charlie McConalogue closed the event live from Donegal.

In his opening address, An Taoiseach Micheál Martin said: “The Irish agri-food sector has an outstanding reputation in producing high quality food and drink, recognised and respected the world over. The industry is a key driver of the economy and its much of its success is as a result of producers’ exceptional ability to withstand or adapt to challenges.

“This resilience is needed now more than ever. We are facing a period of huge uncertainty over the next year; market related challenges, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit. Despite these threats, I am optimistic for our agri-food sector and the Government is rolling out ambitious policy initiatives and supports to ensure that the sector can continue to grow.”

“I am particularly pleased with the recent agreement by the European leaders of the EU budget 2021-2027, particularly the protection of the CAP budget. This was a key requirement for Ireland in the budgetary negotiations”.

In closing his interview with Broadcaster Damien O’Reilly, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, TD said “To all of the agri-food companies watching I am absolutely aware of the concerns that are growing that there may not be a deal here. We will do everything we can, not just to win the political argument here week by week in these Brexit negotiations, but actually to work towards an agreement that will work for the EU and the UK and also most importantly to the businesses and the employment that you [agri-food industry] provides.”

The theme of this year’s event was “Embracing Disruption in Agri-Food”. ASA President, Seamus O’Mahony commented: “Almost 60 years ago, the Great Irish 

American President John F. Kennedy said, ‘The supreme reality of our time is the vulnerability of our planet’ when he recognised and inspired his scientific teams to tackle climate change. Six decades later, we are in the same space with a race to achieve carbon neutrality in our supply chain before the end of the decade for manufacturing and by 2050 for the total agri-food supply chain which is embedded into policy through the Green Deal and the EU farm to fork strategy. Yet climate change is only one of the disruptors our industry is facing and we are going to have to work together to empower our people, with the help of scientific advancements, to meet these challenges head-on.”

Attendees also heard contributions from Daniella Taveau, Regulatory and Global Trade Strategist and former International Policy Analyst with the US Food and Drug Administration; Dr. David Bray, a Washington based strategic leader and positive change consultant; Donal Dennehy Director, Danone Ireland; Laura Burke, Director General EPA; Padraig Brennan, Sectors Director, Bord Bia and Professor Thia Hennessey, Dean of Business School, UCC.

At the event, Seamus O’Mahony, ASA President announced that Peter Byrne, CEO of National Co-op Farm Relief Services (NCFRS) is the recipient of the prestigious ‘Distinguished Member’ Award – an honour bestowed on ASA members who have made a significant impact on the agri-food sector in the course of their careers.

The award, sponsored by AIB, was presented to Peter in recognition of the fact that he is one of the driving forces behind the movement to create an organised structure to coordinate, develop, diversify and extend the Farm Relief Services (FRS) in Ireland. Peter graduated from UCD in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Science and became manager of NCFRS when it was established in 1980. Today FRS employs over 2,000 people nationwide and has a turnover in excess of €100 million.