Farming & Fisheries

Dairy exports see a record year in 2021 – despite the challenges

February 5th, 2022 7:05 AM

By Emma Connolly

The Irish dairy sector is now worth more than €5bn. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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THE value of Ireland’s dairy sector was worth more than €5bn last year and remains the largest element within Irish food and drink exports.

This was followed by meat and livestock, which generated over €3.5bn in export sales, and prepared consumer foods, which was worth more than €2.5bn.

The figures were released as part of Bord Bia’s Export Performance and Prospects report 2021/2022.

Headed up by Clonakilty’s Tara McCarthy, Bord Bia revealed that the combined the value of Ireland’s food, drink and horticulture exports increased by 4% to a record €13.5bn in 2021, despite the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit on trading.

Ireland exported the equivalent of almost €37m worth of food and drink every day last year to customers in more than 180 countries worldwide,

Ireland exports about 90% of its food and drink production and the performance of the export sector was robust in 2021, given the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the fact that the UK is now operating outside of the EU Customs Union.

Bord Bia also published ambitious new three-year targets to further contribute to the growth in the value-chain of Irish food and drink exports as part of the launch of its new 10-year Statement of Strategy. The plan envisages a significant expansion in the value growth of Irish food and drinks exports during the period, including an 11% increase in the value of dairy, meat, and livestock exports, and a 14% jump in prepared consumer food exports.

Tara said the industry’s performance had been extraordinary: ‘The sector’s ability to beat its 2019 performance and deliver a record year for Irish exports is truly impressive, and Irish food and drink producers and manufacturers deserve huge credit.

‘While we understandably focus on the headline figures, it is worth remembering that within those billions and millions are businesses and farms in every county and indeed, almost every parish in the country.

‘Businesses that, whether large or small, are run by people who have faced tremendous challenges over the past 20 months, both professional and personal.’

She said that sustainability will continue to be a key focus for Bord Bia both this year and in the years ahead, as they work in partnership with the Irish food, drink, and horticulture industry to meet the Irish Government’s carbon reduction targets and sustainability challenges.

‘We look forward to helping Irish businesses to further embrace sustainability and ensure that Ireland continues to be acknowledged as a leader in sustainable food production,’ she said.




Ireland exported dairy products to 147 markets during 2021. Cheese exports increased by 15% and are now worth more than €1bn per annum, which is the equivalent of €19m per week. The value of butter exports increased by 3% to €997m. This increase was achieved despite a decline in exports to the UK, as EU demand was good and exports to the US continued to grow.

Meat and Livestock

Beef exports increased in value by 9% and were worth €2.1bn during the year. The strongest growth was to EU destinations which had a reduction in domestic beef availability. The value of pigmeat exports decreased by 3% to €542m, as lower pricing in international markets affected the industry. Sheepmeat exports increased strongly for the second consecutive year, rising by 15% to €420m.

Lower export capacity in New Zealand, due to reduced production levels and a redirection of its product away from the EU meant there was less New Zealand lamb available in our key export markets.


Seafood exports returned to growth last year, increasing by 6% to €485m. Pelagic exporters experienced a difficult 2021, with a cut to the mackerel quota as a result of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. Exports were down 1% to €169m. Shellfish exports increased by 25% to €165m. However, freshwater seafood exports – the vast majority of which is salmon – had a challenging year, due to increased competition in certain markets. In overall terms, the value of exports declined by 8% to €98m.The whitefish export market was also challenging and export values declined by about 15% to €40.6m.

Lower quotas for some whitefish species, greater consumption of whitefish on the domestic market, and difficult catching conditions all contributed to the overall reduction in 2021.

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