In Ireland the agri-food sector is a hugely valuable part of the economy, and is a key contributor to economic growth. Irish food and drink exports are thriving on the global stage – we export the majority of what we produce, and consumers in 175 countries around the world are our customers.

Irish agriculture is dominated by family-owned farms.  There are almost 140,000 farms, with an average land holding of 32.5 hectares.  Pasture-based farm enterprises dominate, thanks to Ireland’s rich green grass growth for 9 to 10 months a year.  As a result, Irish output is dominated by dairy and livestock, especially beef.  Dairy and beef account for two-thirds of gross agricultural output and similar proportions of agri-food exports.  Thanks to the lifting of production quotas in 2015 and Ireland’s strong capability in the dairy sector, Ireland is currently one of the world’s fastest-growing dairy producers and exporters.

In 2018:-

  • Ireland produced over 10% of Global Infant Formula
  • Ireland was the largest net exporter of Beef in the Northern Hemisphere
  • Irish agri-food exports were valued at €13.6 billion, a 64% increase since 2010
  • It was the 9th successive year of growth in agri-food exports by volume
  • Irish agri-food was exported to 180 countries
  • Dairy exports exceeded €4bn for the second year
  • Butter exports exceeded €1 billion for the first time
  • Cheese exports were worth €800m
  • Meat and Livestock exports were €3.97 billion, an increase of 1%
  • Irish beef production stood at 633,000 tonnes, up 3%
  • Beverages exports were €1.5 billion
  • Irish Whiskey accounted for 42% of beverages exports, exceeding 10m cases for the first time
  • Irish agri-food sector employed over 173,000 people, 7.6% of the total working population

The strategic vision for the agriculture and food sector is set out in a series of 10 year plans, published every five years.  In 2015 Food Wise 2025 was published, succeeding 2010’s Food Harvest 2020 .  These plans emerge from a consensus-based process which includes stakeholders – farmers, food processors, representative bodies, researchers, government agencies, consumer representatives, retailers and environmental protection authorities.  The planning process identifies and agrees growth targets that the industry believes it can achieve, together with plans to address the key obstacles and limiting factors.  Critically, the plans establish a shared vision for the sector among all stakeholders.

The planning process creates cohesive, action-based roadmaps, with specific development measures and targets.  The actions are owned by the participants, who report on implementation on an ongoing basis over the lifetime of the plan.  Implementation is also supported by activation measures, run by sub-groups of the parent implementation committee.

Food Wise 2025 is a statement of intent.  Its essential message is that if we follow the actions identified in the strategy, we can expect to achieve the following growth projections by 2025:-

  • an 85% increase in the value of exports to €19 billion
  • a 65% increase in the value of primary production to €10 billion
  • a 70% increase in the sector’s value addition to the economy to over €13 billion
  • the creation of 23,000 additional jobs all along the supply chain from producer level to high-end value-added product development

Achievements against the Food Wise 2025 plan are reported by the Ministry in collaboration with stakeholders.  Overall, agri-food exports have achieved remarkable success, and have increased by 50% on 2009 levels.  Food and beverage exports were €10.8bn in 2015, a 3% increase on the previous year.  Total agri-food sector exports were €11.78bn.

The profile of trade continues the change that has been evident in recent years, with exports of food and drink to international markets (outside of our traditional UK and EU markets) steadily increasing to a value of around €3.4 billion in 2015.

Other key aspects of Ireland’s agri-food profile:

  • Ireland is the world’s first country to implement a national sustainability programme for agriculture and food – Origin Green – which unites government, producers and the private sector on a journey to make Ireland’s food and drink sector the most sustainable in the world.
  • As an exporting nation, Ireland’s agri-food sector is export-led and driven by in-depth consumer demand insights from our key export markets.
  • The use of technology and innovation is fostered to add value, build competitiveness and to address key challenges of the sector, such as environmental sustainability. For example, Ireland’s national beef genomics programme aims to lower the intensity of GHG emissions by improving the genetic merit of the national beef herd.
  • The highest standards of food safety management are in place to protect the health of consumers and ensure Irish food exports are trusted globally. Independent studies, such as – Food Safety News – confirm that Ireland is a world-leader in food safety.