BY EMMA CONNOLLY
IRISH agriculture as a family-based enterprise is what gives us an edge in the international market, according to Agriculture Minister Michael Creed.
He was speaking at the third annual West Cork Farming Awards, run by The Southern Star and the Celtic Ross Hotel in Rosscarbery, where that ethos was abundantly clear as families and communities gathered to celebrate local excellence in the industry which is internationally recognised as a global leader.
‘We are recognised as a nation who produces food to the highest standard but also food that is produced in a family farm environment,’ the minister said.
‘I’ve returned recently from a trade mission to the United States and Mexico and we secured approval in the States to market Irish food along those lines – to say it’s grass-based production, family-farm produced, equally fitting into this storyline of Irish agriculture as a family-based enterprise that is very different to many competitors we meet on the international market.’
However, the minister used the occasion to advise all present to remember their social sustainability – or work-life balance – and not to forget that part of the equation in their day-to-day business.
‘As we embrace the opportunities in agriculture and in the dairy side in particular … we must make sure we as farmers and the farming community have time for ourselves and our families and don’t compromise our quality of life on the basis of meeting the demand and opportunities that are there.’
He also said farmers needed to ask themselves if their operations were economically sustainable as they increased their output and intensity: ‘It’s imperative as we embrace opportunities, we are undergoing a renaissance in the dairy area for example, we need to make sure all the investments we are making, and there are very significant investments in dairy processing and inside the farm gate by individual farmers in terms of growing their output, that we ask are they financial sustainable?
‘Prices can go up and down – we are in a particularly good year on the dairy side – but when I was appointed first dairy was in the midst of a crisis … this is a global market issue.
‘My responsibility as a minister in the government is to improve the tool kit available to farmers to deal with the challenges involved.
‘But what I say to people contemplating making an investment is to make sure the investments inside the farm gates are sustainable on the basis that prices go up and down.’
He said it was really important to take a rolling average over five or seven years and to fix repayments along what the average price is before embarking on an expansion.
Minister Creed said Ireland had the most carbon-efficient dairy sector in the world, along with New Zealand and was the world’s fifth most carbon efficient producer of beef in the EU and are committed to doing more.
‘We are driving down the carbon intensity of our food production while at the same time increasing our output. There are many naysayers who regularly challenge in particular the agri sector who say we are not doing enough?
‘And, to those I say that the winners of these awards today are clear evidence that this is a community that meets corporate social responsibility standards all day, every day of the year and are committed to doing more.’
His parting message to the nominees before departing for Macroom Food Festival was that our reputation is ‘built on the commitment day in day out, 24/7, 365 days of the year by the farming community and I salute each and every one of you whatever that area of enterprise for that commitment.’
This was the third year of the awards which have grown from 130 guests in 2015, to 240 last Sunday in what Southern Star MD Sean Mahon described as a ‘a great indicator of how they have captured people’s imaginations right across West Cork’s farming landscape and have now become an annual event to look forward to in the diary.’
He said the event showcased fantastic examples of ‘agricultural innovation, vision, dedication, loyalty, family, teamwork and as we all know for most examples of successful farming…sheer hard work.’
Southern Star editor Con Downing, who is the main driving force behind the event, was also fulsome in his praise of his fellow judges and sponsors – and described all nominees as winners in their own right.
General manager of the Celtic Ross Hotel, co-organisers of the awards, Neil Grant joked that, if the event kept growing at such a pace, they’d have to erect a marquee at the side of the ballroom next year.
He described the atmosphere in the room as ‘electric’ and the farming community as their lifeblood and said everyone in the room was the reason the hotel had been in business for 20 years.