PUTTING the family at the heart of the farm is what makes Irish agriculture special and is what gives us our competitive edge.
That was a key message from chief executive of Bord Bia, Tara McCarthy, who was speaking at The Southern Star and Celtic Ross Hotel’s West Cork Farming Awards in Rosscarbery last Sunday.
The Clonakilty woman told a packed room of nearly 200 people: ‘When we are talking to international audiences about what is different about Ireland, it’s the family farm and the family structure and the support that families can give to each other when they are talking about food production in Ireland that has actually become a competitive advantage for us.’
Tara, a key figure in international talks on the impact of Brexit on our food industry, acknowledged that it was a ‘huge challenge when one of the biggest markets of your food decides to leave the EU.’
However, pointing to the current volatile conditions for farming including Brexit, climatic changes and trade wars, she said their response was to prepare for different scenarios and ‘control what they could control.’
‘Our job, we believe, is to make sure the exporters of the food you produce are best prepared; that they have the information and supports they need to help them make the best choices on your behalf; and that might be to stay and defend their presence in the UK market or to look at newer markets.’
With that in mind, Dublin-based Tara is preparing for a 10-day trade mission to China, Malaysia and Indonesia next month, with Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed to promote our beef and dairy.
‘What we’re looking to do all the time is to help the industry make those best decisions,’ the mother of three said.
She pointed to playing to our strengths, and to selling our unique agri story to markets who will appreciate it.
‘There is no point in saying our industry challenges will be solved in a day; we will always have challenges and we will always be meeting new challenges just when we think we’ve solved the old ones. But what we can do is tell our story better than others and make sure we’re playing to our strengths all the time.’
Bord Bia’s challenge, she said, is to make sure West Cork’s farmers work receives the return it needs; and ‘that consumers around the globe know and understand and respect the challenges and the work you put into creating this food.’
‘That means we’re looking to promote and market your food to the best buyers around the world. But I’m not looking for Ireland to sell to every single country in the world. I’m looking for Ireland to sell to countries who appreciate the type of food that we make because not every market appreciates sustainability; appreciates environmental impact on farming systems we have, appreciates a commitment to animal welfare, and it’s those markets that we have to work even harder to tell that Irish story.
‘Over the last 18 months, we’ve done an awful lot of work at looking at the 180 markets Ireland sells to, looking at the top 30, the top 15 and the top five, so we can focus all our efforts to make sure places we tell our story is going to be places that it is appreciated.’
While chatting to people at the awards lunch, now in its fourth year, Tara said she got an image of an industry that is positive and has confidence.
She continued: ‘There are many reasons why people are confident in farming at the moment; one that I like to look at, and I think is important, is that the role of the farmer in food production has actually changed and that the farmer has actually been put in centre fold because they are at the heart of what is happening right the way through the globe when talking about food production.
‘You are key players in all our futures; our lives are effectively in your hands. When you are looking at a population that’s growing, when you’re looking at consumers that are asking for help to make better choices in their lives, to have a better health in their lives, to have less impact on the environment, they are coming to you for that solution. And, your sense of place in making those decisions work is core for everything.’
The reason The Southern Star was able to host such awards, she said, was because of local farmers continuous pursuit of excellence.
‘Entering into competitions like this shows you’re hungry to be the best that you can be; to challenge yourself against your peers and looking all the time at best practice around you.’
Stressing how delighted and proud she was to be associated with the awards, she told all nominees their choices were making the country’s food industry stronger and that Bord Bia would continue to represent their great work.
Southern Star MD Sean Mahon and editor Con Downing thanked everyone who attended the family-focussed event as well as sponsors Drimoleague Concrete Works, Scally’s SuperValu, IFAC, Allied Irish Banks, Eurogene AI Serviecs and Hodnett Forde Property Services and the judges for their time and expertise, while Neil Grant of the Celtic Ross Hotel thanked Fionnula Harkin of Wines Direct for their contribution to the occasion.
Winners At a Glance:
Young Farmer of the Year Award sponsored by Drimoleague Concrete Works
Winner: Tim Crowley, Bandon.
Sustainability and Diversification Award sponsored by Scally’s SuperValu
Winner: Vanessa Kiely-O’Connor, Upton.
Hall of Fame Award sponsored by IFAC
Winner: Joe Kelly, Eyeries.
Dairy Farmer of the Year Award sponsored by Allied Irish Banks
Winner Cyril Draper, Enniskeane.
Drystock Farmer of the Year Award sponsored by Eurogene AI Services
Winner: Denis O’Riordan, Bantry.
Outstanding Achievement in Farming Community sponsored by Hodnett Forde Property Services
Winner: Harold Kingston, Courtmacsherry.