Head of Agri sector at Bank of Ireland Eoin Lowry provides an overview of the Irish agriculture sector.
Agriculture is Ireland’s largest and oldest indigenous industry, where 137,000 family farms produce safe, high quality food to feed 35m people worldwide.
Farmers are at the heart of the agrifood sector where they contribute to the economic, environmental and social fabric of Ireland, particularly in rural areas. Without them, the wider agri-food sector, which employs 14% of total employment outside of Dublin, would not exist, and it is therefore essential that their viability and well-being are kept to the fore.
The agrifood sector grew substantially over the past decade, driven by the ending of milk quotas and the opening up of new international markets. The sector is lowly borrowed where only a third of farms have debt, giving the sector a unique competitive advantage.
Globally, the world’s farmers produce more food that they ever have in any time in history. By 2050 time there will be 2bn more mouths to feed and this will require a further 50pc more food. This is both a great opportunity and challenge for the sector.
Agriculture is undergoing rapid transformation to respond to this global challenge. The way we farm in the future will be much different to the way we farm today. Simply put, we need to find a way to grow more food with less: Less water, less land and fewer resources. But these challenges present opportunities for innovation, increased efficiency and productivity and new ways of farming.
Thankfully, the Irish agrifood sector has a global reputation for high environmental standards- producing high quality safe food from a predominantly grass based industry. Family farms have proven to be competitive and sustainable and have always adapted to challenges over time.
Given that there are more farmers over the age of 65 than under the age of 35, encouraging younger people into the sector remains critical so that farms can continue from one generation to the next ensuring the long term future sustainability of the sector.