Agriculture will face significant challenges in the immediate future arising out of reform of the CAP, EU enlargement and further trade liberalisation under WTO round. There are also challenges in relation to the environment and issues over how our food is produced. Farmers will have to adopt the most modern and efficient systems and they will be required to farm in a manner that is sustainable and affords protection to the environment. At the same time there are increased challenges in relation to consumer demand for new product innovation and for food safety. To meet all these challenges, the industry will need to continue to be informed by good research.
Irish agricultural policy at the moment is aimed at ensuring an efficient, competitive agricultural sector capable of delivering high quality, safe food. This has been clearly laid out within the Department's long-term strategy document Agri-food 2010 and within the current statement of strategy 2001-04. The significant role of research and development in this process is recognised and has been incorporated within the goals and strategies outlined in the statement of strategy.
The application of scientific knowledge has played a pivotal role in the development of the agri-food industry to date. I appreciate the key role of research and development in this regard, in providing information on the most up-to-date and efficient practises. Research will continue to inform the sector and will play a key role in the future.
In recognition of this, significant funding is provided by Government for research in the agriculture and food sector. Funding is provided to Teagasc for its research, advisory and education services. Public funding is also provided to the University sector for research in agriculture and food. The Food Institutional Research Measure, FIRM, of the NDP is the largest nationally funded food research programme currently in operation. In addition to all of those, my own Department also maintains farms and laboratories which carry out research and trials relating to animal and crop production and food safety.
The Teagasc advisory services play a crucial role in the adoption of the results of research into farm practice. In similar manner, the results of food research carried out under FIRM are made available to industry through the RELAY dissemination project.
However, public good research will not on its own drive an economically viable and competitive agri-food industry. Companies themselves also need to be involved. Sales and profitability are positively linked to in-company research, and thus in-company research and development is crucial to success.
Research and development will be very important in providing a strong scientific and technological base to underpin the development of a vibrant and competitive agriculture industry, and enable it to meet the many challenges facing it in the future.