Food Harvest 2020 Report: Statements

I am glad to have the opportunity to discuss the Food Harvest 2020 report in the Seanad. Food Harvest 2020 is an ambitious but realistic strategy for growth in the agrifood sector in the next ten years. It builds on the work of the agri-vision report, the focus and strategies of which the Department and State agencies have implemented very successfully in the three years up to the end of 2009. The effect of these strategies is borne out by the current capacity of the agrifood, forestry and fishing industry to compete on its own strengths on the world market

Before I speak on the key messages of Food Harvest 2020, I would like to spend some time setting out the importance of the sector, its diversity and capacity for further development. We are the largest net exporter of beef in the northern hemisphere and virtually all of these exports go to higher value EU markets, guided by Bord Bia's beef promotion strategy. We are home to some of the world's best known premium drinks brands. In the dairy sector the development of functional ingredients is a notable feature of the industry. Ireland accounts for 15% of the world market in infant formula production. The fact that this industry is located in Ireland demonstrates international confidence in our food safety systems and the huge investment we have made in food safety and quality. It is no accident that Ireland has dynamic dairy and food ingredients sectors. The food and drinks industry is, increasingly, a knowledge industry. The development of our sophisticated prepared food industry, including seafood, has been assisted by the emphasis in recent years on research, development and innovation. This area was relatively unknown to Irish processors a decade ago, but currently these exports are valued at over €1billion and the United Kingdom remains our largest market. Through close industry and Bord Bia co-operation, the strategic target of doubling the value of food and drink exports to Asia by 2009 was achieved two years ahead of target.

The transformation this multi-million export industry has undergone in the past decade has been remarkable. In the early 1990s the agrifood sector was largely commodity based and underpinned by market support mechanisms. Today it is market-led and a more consumer focused industry adept at capturing market share for value added produce. The agrifood, forestry and fisheries sector plays a critical part in the economy and is particularly important in fostering rural employment and regional development. I am confident it has a valuable contribution to make to our planned national economic recovery. It remains our main indigenous manufacturing industry, accounting for over 6% of GDP and approximately 7% of national employment. Importantly, its 600 plus food businesses, over 90% of which are small and medium-sized enterprises, have a greater regional spread than other manufacturing industry. These entrepreneurs are critical to maintaining rural employment levels. Overall, the sector has a gross annual turnover of the order of €24 billion. More significant is the fact that the sector is embedded in the economy in that it domestically sources 71% of its raw materials, compared to 41% for total manufacturing industry.

In the past two years the agrifood and fishing sector has faced the same challenges as other industries. It has clearly been affected by the global economic downturn, unfavourable exchange rates and issues around environmental sustainability. However, as its strength lies in its substantive export base, it has the capacity to weather the economic storms better than other industries. This is borne out by the facts that even in 2009 agrifood export volumes only decreased by 3%, far less than other sectors. Recent estimates indicate that the value of farm output in 2010 will increase by over €300 million compared to the figure for last year.

I am very conscious that enormous opportunities have been opening up in EU and global food and drink markets. The agrifood sector has repeatedly shown its capacity to compete in the toughest marketplaces. To a large extent, that is why I used the earlier part of this debate to press home in an emphatic manner the sector's capability and capacity to succeed. My job is to encourage that capacity so as to ensure the sector continues to recover from the temporary downturn in 2009, grow strongly from its current base, become an integral part of the smart economy and be at the forefront of the country's export-led economic recovery. To achieve this, I recognised that a new strategic vision was needed for the changed circumstances in which we found ourselves. Therefore, from around the middle of last year, the Department and a number of State agencies started to prepare the groundwork for development. A detailed analysis of the sector and the challenges it faced was carried out. The result was that by the time I established the 2020 committee in February this year, a comprehensive series of discussion and background papers was already available.

When establishing the committee, I provided it with specific terms of reference, namely:

Prepare and present a draft strategy for the medium-term development of the agri-food, fisheries and forestry sector for the period to 2020. The strategy will outline the key actions needed to ensure that the sector contributes to the maximum possible extent to our export-led economic recovery and the full development of the smart economy.

I also asked the committee to present its report to me by July. This was a very tight timeframe, but I considered the situation demanded this level of priority. To support the committee in its deliberations, I had ensured it was briefed on the outcome of the detailed analysis mentioned and that it had access to over 80 submissions received in the public consultation process launched early this year. In addition, on my direction, the Harvard Business School had engaged with key industry leaders and small and medium-sized industries to seek a new perspective for the sector. Their forum on Pathways for Growth fed into the work of the 2020 committee and this gave further direction and an external perspective on how to turn our natural advantages into high value exports.

I was very pleased with the report, Food Harvest 2020, which the committee presented to me in July. The report captures the considerable diversity of our agrifood, fishery and forestry sector, underlines its significant position within the economy and sets the scene for realising its potential for the next decade. It is very detailed and contains over 200 recommendations. I use this opportunity to address its main focus. The direction of the report is articulated in the caption, "Smart Green Growth".

Before I deal with the implementation process, I would like to spend a minute or so clarifying the main points of the new policy document and strategy. The growth targets set by the committee in its report include that by 2020 the sector would increase the value of primary output in the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sector by €1.5 billion — a 33% increase compared with the 2007-2009 average; improve the value added in the sector by €3 billion — a 40% increase compared with 2008; achieve an export target of €12 billion for the sector — a 42% increase compared with the 2007-2009 average; increase milk production by 50% and add 20% to the value of the beef sector. In addition, Food Harvest 2020 states that we can and must improve our cost competitiveness by 20% relative to our competitors and that the industry spend on research and development must also double. These are unquestionably ambitious targets but, as I stated in the Dáil Chamber last week, this sector has real substance, capacity, quality products and a growing market. Based on these attributes and opportunities, I firmly believe we can achieve these targets and am fully committed to my role in realising this vision.

Like this House, I fully recognise that achieving these targets in these difficult times will not be easy and will require a high level of commitment and collaboration from all players in the sector. It is my intention to harness the commitment, ability and positivity which pervades this sector and to ensure we all do what is necessary to achieve these targets. These challenging growth targets will be progressed by our acting smarter and thinking green. Acting smarter is pivotal to our vision. We must demonstrate by our actions how agriculture fits into the Government's strategy of building a smart economy. It involves using and increasing the take-up of best practice models, being innovative, creating more effective business modelsand research and development, the latter being the accepted but quite a narrow view of what we mean by acting smart. Examples of smart initiatives would include increased take-up of the BETTER farm programmes, in particular by beef farmers, the dairy efficiency programme, which has been an outstanding success to date, the one goal challenge, the Bord Bia-UCD fellowship programme, innovation vouchers, the greenfield project, which I hope at an early date to extend to the north and west, lean manufacturing processes and other initiatives to increase competitiveness.

From an industry perspective, smart growth will require stakeholders to update their skills, processes, products, markets and relationships to ensure they can deliver long-term sustainable growth more effectively. This point was also made in the Forfás report on future skills requirements in the food and drinks sector. While the Government has consistently supported the growth and development of the agrifood and fisheries sectors and will continue to facilitate business expansion, sustainable growth and job creation will result fundamentally from the efforts of industry stakeholders. The Food Harvest 2020 committee, which was primarily industry-led, recognised the need for more effective business models. The report emphasised that consolidation and rationalisation of processing capacity was critical to maintaining competitiveness and future viability. Industry leaders recognised that reconfiguration of the primary processing sector was urgent and must take place within a relatively short timeframe.

Ireland and Irish food has always been associated with green, natural and sustainable production. This gives us a natural head start at a time when these so-called green qualities are increasingly demanded by society and consumers. We should be under no illusion that a green image is easily developed or sustained; far from it. A major task will involve a proactive and credible demonstration of our green credentials. Teagasc, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, my Department, Bord Bia and the third level institutes will play a significant role in developing and promoting environmentally friendly farming practices and also in establishing the scientific foundation for the green claims on which we hope to base our food production.

We already have an established green image and farm to environmental standards that go beyond the basic requirements of good farming practice. Bord Bia already employs the theme "Ireland the Food Island" for its marketing campaigns and there are good grounds for building on this image to differentiate, market and obtain a premium price for our food produce. Members may have read recent commentary in the national media in regard to the Bord Bia quality assurance scheme in the beef area and the sustainability and environmental aspects in that regard. Another proposal of note, also mentioned by the Harvard Business School was the creation of an umbrella brand for Irish food and drink. I would definitely like to see this idea developed further. A national brand, soundly based, would be another useful tool to differentiate Irish product from its competitors. It also has obvious links to food tourism and the wider tourism strategy.

I am committed to leading and driving the implementation of this report. I am focused on implementation, activation and achievement of results. Action plans, reports and so on are important but for this project these are secondary to decision taking and undertaking measures which will lead directly to results. I established and chaired the first meeting of the high level implementation committee. This group, involving the chief executive officers of Teagasc, Bord Bia, Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM, the EPA and Enterprise Ireland, and senior officials from my Department and the Department of Finance will primarily direct and take whatever action is needed to implement Food Harvest 2020 successfullyIt will also act as a clearing house for the wide range of issues that will arise in the development of the sector.

At the inaugural meeting of the committee on 16 September, I emphasised to the members that the key function of the committee was to direct and take whatever action was necessary to implement Food Harvest 2020 successfully. At that meeting we agreed on the processes which will best realise the sector's full potential advance. We agreed that among the areas requiring immediate action are: the development of the dairy sector; ensuring a credible sustainable agenda, including brand Ireland; improving competitiveness and promoting effective business models; prioritising and advancing innovation, research and entrepreneurship; and profitability of the beef sector. Subsequent to that meeting each of the chief executive officers took responsibility for progressing certain actions and identified who would assume the lead role for the cross-cutting issues requiring collaboration. This will facilitate the high level implementation committee to monitor progress on implementation.

The most ambitious aspect of Food Harvest 2020 relates to the dairy sector, involving a 50% output expansion and major rationalisation. The abolition of milk quotas at the end of March 2015 provides us with the opportunity for a step change in scale which must go hand in hand with structural change. When speaking about the potential of the dairy industry to grow, we must bear in mind that in the years leading up to when milk quotas were introduced in 1984, our dairy industry was growing at a rate of 8% per annum. Surely now, with a much more sophisticated industry, we can grow strongly each year.

There were extensive discussions at last month's high level implementation committee meeting on the necessary steps to advance the dairy sector. It was agreed that integrated and collaborative decisions and actions were needed on production trends, product mix and processing capacity.

To ensure the current opportunities are fully realised, I have established the dairy expansion activation group and given it a very specific remit and timetable for action. By the end of November, this small group of farmers, processors and Teagasc will submit an initial roadmap to the high level committee highlighting the key milestones from the production and processing perspectives, identifying obstacles to implementation and how these should be overcome. We have also issued a call for research proposals as a follow-on from Food Harvest 2020

The next meeting of the high level committee is scheduled for 10 November and will progress issues relating to the beef sector, brand Ireland, the sustainability agenda and competitiveness and employment impact. There is a renewed interest in our sector among the wider society and a growing recognition of the role it can play in our economic recovery. This is an important and welcome change but it also poses a challenge for us to deliver on these expectations. It is a challenge the sector is fully capable of meeting and one that I and my colleagues in Government are determined will be achieved. I fully commit myself to lead that effort.

I welcome the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith, to the House and thank him for his presentation. This is an appropriate day to have this discussion given earlier comment in this House on the need for an economic and growth stimulus plan for the economy. Agriculture can be part of our approach towards growth and stimulating the economy. Many of us attended the pre-budget briefing earlier today by the largest farming organisation, the IFA, at which it outlined its deep concerns in advance of the budget. It is interesting that we are having this debate having taken on board comments made by colleagues in the House today and the concerns of the IFA about the future of Irish agriculture and the way it can grow and survive.

We can safely make the statement now that farming and food production is back in fashion. During the boom years of the so-called Celtic tiger, when there was a job at almost every crossroads for every rural boy and girl if they so wished, we lost some of the focus on our primary natural industry, farming and food production, which had sustained us through generations.

It is often said that we should always take advantage of a recession and because of the recession here and the international depression, we are recognising once again that our biggest exporting industry, namely, agriculture, is a key not just to the recovery of this country but to its development into the future. This plan is welcome and useful and we must ensure it is not a plan that will end up adding to those on the shelves in Leinster House.

In that regard, it is important the maximum support be given to the implementation committee the Minister has put in place. I congratulate him on putting in place that committee because we have had a plethora of excellent reports across various Departments full of good ideas and suggestions but which remain on the shelf and are not implemented. It is vital this plan is implemented to the maximum possible degree.

I look forward to the Minister's regular updates on the work of the implementation committee because we must move the plan from the pages before us to the farms and the farmland of rural Ireland and ensure it works. It is ambitious and difficult but it is doable. We are setting high targets and laudable goals but they can be achieved. The Minister mentioned the introduction of the milk quota regime in 1984. I recall that causing some difficulty in rural Ireland at the time because of the growth in the dairy industry in the preceding years but if we can achieve that type of growth again, we will be in a position to double milk output, and we all know what a huge advantage that will be for the industry.

In terms of the Minister's other major targets, the big target is to increase the primary output of agriculture, fisheries and forestry by €1.5 billion and then improve value added in the sector by €3 billion, which will be a 40% increase on 2008. They are targets to which we all must commit ourselves politically and work with the appropriate sectors to ensure they are achieved.

Regardless of my strong support for the Minister's endeavours in this regard and his commitment to turn the pages of the report into reality, we must also recognise that, as we speak, there are deep concerns in Irish agriculture, notwithstanding the reasonable income increases in the past 12 months arising from more favourable weather and market conditions, etc. There are many challenges facing Irish farming families which need to be addressed, especially in regard to the forthcoming budget about which I am aware the Minister will be in deep discussions with his colleague at the Department of Finance.

We heard earlier about the IFA's concerns on the taxation front in particular. For the 2020 plan to be in place we need a firm foundation of farming families, with the maximum numbers possible retained on the land. That is the reason in the forthcoming budget, by its inclusions and exclusions, we have the opportunity to demonstrate once again our support for and valuing of Irish agriculture. I am aware the Minister has met the farming organisations on numerous occasions and is aware of their short-term concerns in advance of the budget, including taxation concerns about property tax, required changes to the carbon taxation regime, stock relief, agriculture relief for farm transfers, etc. I ask the Minister to try to ensure the Minister for Finance looks favourably on those requests.

We can safely say that the moneys which have been invested in the farming schemes in recent years have created jobs. When we look at agriculture as part of the broader economy and the job losses across all sectors and compare those losses with the almost full maintenance of agriculture production and output and jobs in agriculture, it indicates that it is an industry that is working well but which needs our continued support and that of the Government if we are to put this 2020 plan in place.

I wish to raise some individual items of concern. The Minister must demonstrate his Department's commitment and that of the Government to farmers, and young farmers in particular. The change in the REP scheme has had a rather dramatic income effect on a significant number of people. The installation aid grant scheme, the early retirement scheme and the disadvantaged areas scheme ploughed money into rural pockets and that money was spent locally to produce economic and agricultural activity and sustain jobs. We must try to revisit those schemes at the earliest possible date when some degree of funding allows the Minister to do so.

We are also concerned in Fine Gael, and I am sure we are not alone in our concern about this issue, about the question of retailer dominance, with the farmer being the victim of the supermarket sector in this regard. It is something the Minister must examine.

On the question of forestry, an area we have discussed in greater depth in this House on occasions, it is disappointing that the targets we have set nationally for forestry are not being reached. From an agricultural, environmental, income generation and future pension perspective, forestry is a win-win area and needs further support and commitment. We appeared to have been making a steady graph of progress but that has levelled off and may even have reduced. The Minister might reflect on that when we have the question and answer session at the end of his contribution.

We continue, rightly, to bemoan the fact that since 1973 the fisheries sector has not benefited from European Union policies. I presume further negotiations will take place in advance of January. It is in December-January that the fishing negotiations take place and in so far as we can try to make changes and amendments, we must do so because jobs can be generated in this sector stemming from our natural environment.

I welcome the report and the setting up of the implementation committee. It is important we ensure this plan is implemented.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Brendan Smith, to the Seanad to discuss the Food Harvest 2020 report. I compliment him on a fine contribution in which he outlined his plans for the coming years and to have the committee up and running in a positive fashion.

Food Harvest 2020 is a vision for Ireland's most important indigenous industry. This sector has an annual output of more than €24 billion and employs more than 150,000 people. We export goods worth up to €8 billion to 160 countries every year. At the launch of the Food Harvest 2020 report the Taoiseach stated that Ireland's future economic growth will be driven by the export of goods and services stimulating activity and employment throughout the rest of the economy.

The agrifood sector is part of the expert-led recovery which the Government is pursuing. This is an area in which we have huge expertise, built assiduously over the years, and our export markets have proved that. Our farmer producers have always risen to the occasion in producing quality goods that can take their place in any market, whether it be dairy, beef, pigmeat, poultry or the drinks section of the industry.

This report shows the agrifood sector can produce real returns and grow by one third to €12 billion annually while increasing the value of primary production by our farmers and fishermen by €1.5 billion and value added in the processing by €3 billion.

These targets are ambitious and challenging, but they are achievable. I have no doubt that if the proper resources are put in the sector's way, it will rise to the occasion. Farmers are the most innovative of people; they have always been there and always will be. However, they must receive a fair price for their produce. The report identifies ambitious targets: 20% growth in output value in the sheep sector; 50% growth in output value in the pigmeat sector; an increase in revenue to €1 billion and employment to 14,000 full-time jobs in sea fisheries and aquaculture, with a 78% increase in production in aquaculture; a potential increase of 10% in the value of poultry output; and potential for development in horticulture, with opportunities to replace imported products with homegrown, seasonal produce. We can increase our organic production and there are significant export opportunities, especially to the UK market.

I recently learned that there was a guaranteed food supply of only 26 days in Europe, which is worrying. Whether Europe likes it, it will need to put more money aside to help the sector. Instead of talking about cuts in aid, this is the time to consolidate it and ensure food security which will be vital in Europe in the next couple of years. The figure of a guaranteed supply for 26 days is alarming. We all know that the world's population is growing. In 1999 it passed 6 billion. In 2012 it will reach 7 billion and in 2025 there will be 8 billion. The world's population is growing and will have to be fed. Therefore, it is short-sighted even to talk about cutting farm subsidies; they must be maintained at least at their current level. An increase of 0.5% in taxes across Europe would make up that figure and ensure that in a few years' time, when there is a food shortage, we would not need a shotgun effort to rectify the situation. As the old saying goes, there is no point in locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.

During the years this country has invested large amounts of money in agriculture, fishing and food research which has allowed Irish producers and food companies to build wide-ranging expertise, particularly in the key dairy and beef sectors. We export 85% of our dairy production and 90% of our beef production. The Food Harvest 2020 report provides a roadmap to guide the agrifood sector which is so important to the economy and inform its development by setting out a vision for smart green growth. The green element is important and Ireland has developed it through its policies. Our clean, green grass is a natural ingredient in the production of food. It is next to organic. We must be seen to produce food of high quality that is free of additives. This will become more important and it is good that we are in a position to be on top of this wave.

I was impressed by the figure given by the Minister that around 15% of infant formula for the world market is produced here in Ireland. The fact that so much of this business is located in Ireland demonstrates that we have been doing the right thing for many years and we are now seeing the benefits. That is something we must keep doing.

We must be smart in targeting consumers in the international marketplace and ensure we will be there to supply their needs. The Food Harvest 2020 committee, under the chairmanship of the Minister, will ensure ideas, investment and knowledge will allow us to become one of the top producers of good quality food and fish products and that our primary producers, that is, fishermen and farmers, will be the principal ones to benefit. We must preserve the family farm, not encourage factory farms. The fact that the Minister is driving progress through the committee shows that we are on the right road. I congratulate him and the agriculture and fisheries sector on this.

Forestry has been mentioned. I know more could possibly be done in this area. Because of our history, we have a psychological aversion to sowing trees on land. We will need to get over this, whether through education or otherwise. Long ago growing trees was seen as the preserve of the wealthy farmer, but that is no longer the case. In particular, we do not have nearly enough hardwoods. The farming community has an aversion to putting good land under trees and I do not know how we will get around this. However, some policy should be put in place.

I wish to share my time with Senator Mullen.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I was delighted to hear what the Minister was doing. Food Harvest 2020 is an admirable project. I had the pleasure of being a member of the expert group which established Bord Bia back in 1994, on which I look back as a great success. On that occasion I presented a minority report, although it was only half a page long, stating this new food business — it was not yet called Bord Bia — should be established anywhere but in the then Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. When food and agriculture are dealt with together, food will always take second place owing to the strength of the agriculture community. I still have that belief, but I am delighted to see what the Minister has done, on which I congratulate him.

I have a great belief that if a country is to be successful in any business, it must be first or second in whatever it is doing. We are not doing well enough in this regard. Ireland is the 24th largest milk producer in the world and the 17th largest beef producer. This is a real challenge. I am a bore in speaking about New Zealand, but I recently met a man from Fonterra, the world's largest dairy exporter. New Zealand is the same size as Ireland, with a population even smaller than ours, yet this New Zealand company is now building dairy farms in China to provide special products, mainly dairy products, for the Chinese market. New Zealand lamb is recognised around the world. How can New Zealand to do this when we have not been able to do it yet? We must find a way to do it. I think we can, which is why I encourage research, innovation and whatever else we need. I am impressed by the fact that Nestlé which is based in Switzerland has 5,000 research and development scientists working on new products in the food business.

We must reconsider the issue of genetically modified foods. The world population is to increase by 2.3 billion by 2050 and we do not produce enough food to cope with that increase. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization states we need a 70% increase in food production and we will not be able to do this unless we use modern methods. We will be out of date and behind the scenes if we do not. We must improve crop productivity, whatever way we do it, and I do not think we will achieve this if we do not move with the times.

One of my heroes in life is Norman Borlaug who received the Nobel Prize. He has been called the father of the green revolution and is credited with saving India from famine in the 1960s when the level of wheat production jumped from 12.3 million tonnes in 1966 to 20 million tonnes in 1970. He stated at the time:

Biotechnology helps farmers produce higher yields on less land. This is a very environmentally favourable benefit. For example, the world's grain output in 1950 was 692 million tons. Forty years or so later, the world's farmers used about the same amount of acreage but they harvested 1.9 billion tons — a 170% increase! We would have needed an additional 1.8 billion hectares of land, instead of the 600 million used, had the global cereal harvest of 1950 prevailed in 1999 using the same conventional farming methods. If we had continued practising conventional farming, we would have cut down millions of acres of forest, thereby destroying wildlife habitat, in order to increase cropland to produce enough food for an escalating population.

We have it in our own hands, but we must recognise that research, technology and genetically modified products represent the way of the future. Those of us who say we do not like this will not succeed. It is like those who said more than 100 years ago they would not use any technology but would continue to produce in the same way as in the past. That is not the way of the future. I strongly encourage the Minister not to close his eyes on the opportunities available. I congratulate him on what he is doing, but let us make sure we continue to grow by placing food ahead of agricultural production.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. In concert with Senator Quinn, I congratulate the Minister and wish him well with the excellent work under way with Food Harvest 2020. The Seanad spends considerable time discussing the challenges facing the economy and the hard choices we need to make. We pin all our hopes on the key issue of achieving growth. Everything will change for the better if we can secure the necessary growth in the economy in coming years as we try to bridge the €15 billion gap. The agrifood sector is one on which we can pin our hopes for growth.

Students of history will remember hearing how the Spanish Armada had been defeated by the smaller and more responsive British boats. That could be a metaphor for the economy. If, in relying on our natural genius, we are responsive to the demands of the market and the challenges we are facing, particularly in the sphere of agriculture and food, we will have the capacity to secure victory in terms of growth because we have tremendous resources on which we can rely. We should see the agrifood sector as the key driver of employment and economic activity. The Minister put his finger on it when he talked about the cost of inputs. There are approximately 230,000 jobs in the agrifood sector which represent one eighth of total employment, with more than half of the number being in farming. When one considers that each job in manufacturing supports four additional jobs in the economy, one realises just how important the agrifood sector is.

The embedded economy value of the figure of €27 billion in gross added value in the food and drink industry in 2007 was €22 billion. In the pharmaceutical industry the embedded economy value was €10 billion out of €36 billion, while for ICT it was €7 billion out of €28 billion. Activity in the agrifood sector must also be seen for its spin-off benefits. However, without competitiveness in labour, waste management and energy costs, the impact will be that much worse as a result, which means that even with the advantage there is a potential disadvantage. We could sum up what we need to do by saying we need to export more and that our products need to cost less. We need to play to our strengths as outlined by the Minister, including, classically, our reputation as a clean green country that can produce food using methods that are sustainable and environmentally friendly. We also need to address the ongoing challenges posed by increased production. The Food Harvest 2020 report makes it clear that food safety regulation will be vital because it is essential to continuing to develop our reputation, but that must be smart.

While admiring and supporting what the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food wants to achieve, it has been put that it can be too conservative and that inspection and penaltys seem to be the priority. There may be a need for the Department to be more responsive in order to reinvent the situation.

Regarding education and the work of Teagasc, the agency suffered a cut of €10 million in the last budget. Does the Minister foresee a change in that approach in order that the necessary education can be provided?

I welcome the Minister and commend him on his use of the word "green" which appeared throughout his speech. The Government has become used to using the words "smart", "green" and "growth". I very much welcome the Food Harvest 2020 report, the latest of the ten-year strategies the Government has introduced. It is a good strategy and there was great academic back-up from Harvard University. The figures in the report are very ambitious and it is important for the Oireachtas to investigate growth strategies to show the way out of the difficult economic times in which we find ourselves. The Minister has indicated that there could potentially be a €300 million increase in food exports, which is to be welcomed.

I worked in the dairy sector for many years. We have some very bright individuals and we must make use of them. Senator Mullen referred to the 230,000 people working in the agrifood sector. It might depend on how one works it out — the figure included in the report is 150,000.

The 150,000 figure relates to direct employment, with further jobs downstream. The figure of 230,000 probably does not encompass the level of employment in the entire industry.

The strategy addresses the €3 billion increase in added value. Branding in the food sector is very important. I would not share Senator Quinn's food on GM foods. We have a unique selling point in Ireland in being a green, clean, food producing island. There is a major marketing factor in having grass-based, organic agricultural production which gives us something unique to sell. We should not undersell this, given that the market for it is increasing enormously. It is a high value, high quality market and we should not lightly give up our GM-free status. We need to be careful because it is a great selling point.

The resilience of Irish food products is important and other speakers spoke about food security. I believe it takes approximately ten calories of oil to produce one calorie of food. Oil is used at almost every level of the agriculture sector, including transportation and fertilisers, which cannot be sustained. Senator Quinn spoke about modern food production methods, but there are many modern food production methods and many innovations. It will be very difficult to continue to import oil-based fertilisers and other oil-based materials because of the peak oil problems we can clearly foresee ahead of us.

Given the report's overall vision, we will have a considerably larger food export sector, with more jobs, by 2020, which is achievable. In this regard, I would like to see greater development of the artisan food sector. The slow food movement, as employed in Ireland and Italy, is excellent. There is much to be said for products such as Clonakilty black pudding, but in Italy the number of high quality artisan food brands is extraordinary compared to the level here. There is a huge possibility of increasing this in Ireland, as we have many positive brands such as Cashel Blue and Dubliner cheese and the well known Kerrygold butter and Baileys Irish cream. This country has some great brands, but there is also huge potential for artisan brands.

Many Members have referred to forestry. Our strategy to increase the figure from 11% to 17% by 2030 is good. The great thing about forestry is that it provides sustainable employment in all parts of the country. It is a very good strategy, although we are not making the progress required. It is something that should be cranked up.

We must examine fisheries carefully from a conservation point of view, as well as from many others. When we signed the Common Fisheries Policy, we gave away a huge amount of our fisheries. Hundreds of billions of euro worth of fish has been taken from Irish waters but not by Irish fishermen. We must deal with conservation and if schemes such as the rural environment protection scheme and many of the European support grants in agriculture are being reduced, we should see if we could get some increase in the fisheries sector. The reality is that if one plays one off against the other, it should go both ways. We must look at all angles to improve the income and quality of the country in terms of its image abroad with regard to this sector. Smart green growth is required

I welcome the strategy outlined in Food Harvest 2020. Let us move forward with it.

I will start on a note of agreement with Senator Ó Brolcháin. He made correct points about the potential in Ireland for food tourism and developing our unique brands. He mentioned Italy as a good example. There has been an underground movement in the past few years to try to promote Ireland as a food destination, which does not appear to have received much support from the Department. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten me as to what efforts have been made in that regard. A great deal can be done in that area.

Last weekend the Savour Kilkenny 2010 food festival was held in County Kilkenny and was hugely successful. However, to refer back to the debate we held last week on the funding of small business, the festival was obliged to charge an entry fee because it could not get a credit facility from financial institutions and its funding under the Leader programme will not be made available until January. The festival was very well attended and most worthwhile. It is the type of event that should be held throughout the country because small producers who are producing unique Irish products would greatly benefit from it. These events also have real potential to attract tourists and do something economically for the country.

I disagree to an extent with Senator Ó Brolcháin's remarks about smart green growth. They are nice words, but they have become meaningless in the past few years. They do not mean anything to people anymore because they do not see any evidence of them having an effect. They are good words, but they have become empty and hollow. The Government uses them a great deal but does not follow-up on them. We should not throw around such words.

Today Members of the Oireachtas were invited to speak to the Irish Farmers Association, the representatives of which produced some serious statistics for the level of employment in agriculture. I agree with the Food Harvest 2020 report, but there are serious road blocks to implementing it. The first is the sheer age structure in agriculture. A couple of years ago the Government suspended the installation aid grant for new farmers and the early retirement scheme. Only 7% of farmers are under the age of 35 years. How many will be dead by 2020 and will they be replaced?

The early retirement scheme, co-funded by the European Union, was an effort to have land transferred to younger farmers in the community. Many children of farmers have lost their jobs and are interested in becoming involved in agriculture, but a farm cannot support two families, both them and their parents. At least, with the early retirement scheme there was €13,000 or €14,000 available to the farmer and his or her spouse as an income for a number of years and a new family could become involved in the farming enterprise. The report will mean nothing unless we can get such people involved in agriculture. They are not becoming involved, although there are more people interested in agriculture because they do not have job opportunities in other areas. The Government must do something to resurrect the farm retirement scheme in some shape or form.

One in five jobs outside Dublin is in agriculture, either directly or indirectly through related services. I am not a farmer, but I come from a farming background. Farmers tend to spend the money they earn in their local communities. The money is not saved but reinvested in the farm. Farmers will build sheds to comply with EU directives, as they must, or they might buy a few acres of ground if it happens to come on the market. They spend money in the local shop and local creamery. The money is not part of the €100 billion saved in the economy but is circulated in the rural community.

We must protect this money in rural areas, but I am not satisfied the Government is doing enough in that regard.

As I said, approximately 20% of jobs outside Dublin are in the agriculture sector, yet agriculture accounts for less than 1% of the overall Government budget. Two years ago, when we had two or three budgets in one year, the agriculture budget was slashed through the suspension of the early retirement scheme and so forth. Agriculture has taken a disproportionately hard hit in the past few years. If the Minister is serious about Food Harvest 2020 and the good policies it contains, it cannot happen for free. However, any investment the Government makes will be more than returned in the rural community and throughout the island. I realise there will be cuts in agriculture when the Government is considering savings, but many of them can come through cuts in administration. The Government should protect, as much as possible, the incomes of farmers which have suffered in the past few years and ensure Food Harvest 2020 becomes a reality.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire and I wish him continued success within the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

As I only have a short time, I will cut to the chase. All sides of the House and the farming organisations have welcomed the thrust of the report. We are entering what I hope will be an exciting and challenging time for the agrifood industry in the next decade. Obviously, there are huge challenges facing both the Government and the farming organisations. A number of issues have arisen, particularly in the context of the conference held last week by the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society, ICOS. Questions were raised by some speakers at the conference which the Minister might be able to clarify. The chief executive of the Irish Dairy Board, IDB, Mr. Kevin Lane said it was nonsense that the organisation represented just 60% of the dairy industry. He went on to say the IDB accepted that it would have to, as he put it, walk the walk and prove that it could give the best return for dairy processors and farmers in terms of price.

Why are the other 40% of processors not involved with the IDB, given that the thrust of the Food Harvest 2020 report and mainstream agricultural policy is to try to market brand Ireland in a more cohesive, co-ordinated fashion? While the Stock Exchange is not the best example of logic and common sense, the only two shares consistently going up in value on the Irish Stock Exchange are the two food company shares, Glanbia and Kerry Group. The challenge facing the world in the next decade will not just be climate change but food security. Ireland, with its grassland production system and wonderful brand, is ideally poised to take advantage of this.

Why is it that only 60% of the dairy industry is under the umbrella of the Irish Dairy Board? A leading Dutch co-operative adviser and researcher, Dr. Onno van Bekkum, told the recent Irish Co-Operative Organisation Society, ICOS, conference that several recent developments in the Irish co-operative scene had intrigued him. Among these was the proposal to demerge Glanbia plc and Glanbia co-op. He asked why would Glanbia want to get rid of its US dairy business. He was quoted, "If you retreat onto your island, I do not think that would be a good decision". He pointed to the example of Arla and Friesland Campina and that the future for successful co-operatives was in the world.

Glanbia supplier and IFA dairy committee chairman, Kevin Kiersey, on the other hand explained the demerger proposal was motivated by a desire to take greater control and develop the co-operative's Irish business. Is this the right decision for Glanbia?

Another topic at the ICOS conference was the cost of required expansion in milk processing capacity. Farmers claim disproportionate costs could be imposed on producers. I welcome the increase in the price of milk from 20 cent to 32 cent per litre. It was criminal that those purchasing milk at 20 cent per litre were then selling it on with large mark-ups at the expense of producers.

The dairy industry has the capacity to expand and take advantage of the ending of quotas in 2015. However, who will pay for what seem to be extraordinarily high investment costs to upgrade milk processing? The IFA president, John Bryan, recently said the 30 cent per litre cost was massively excessive. Based on recent investments carried out in the north east, he said the processing and other off-farm investment required should not exceed a quarter of that figure.

I congratulate the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on issuing a strong statement today on what he described as ill-informed and inaccurate comments about late payments to farmers. He said farmers can be assured that single payments and the disadvantaged area payments will continue between now and next year. Much of the misinformation about these payments in the press needs to be challenged. One claim was that 10,000 farmers have yet to provide details of stocking density. The figures printed in yesterday's farming supplement to theIrish Independent were quite distorted using combined figures from 2009 and 2010 to include both the disadvantaged area payments and the single farm payments and arriving at a non-payment figure of €175 million when the figure is actually nearer €60 million for disadvantaged area payments.

The UK and Germany, among others, make no advance payments. Between March and June most other member states will still not have completed pay-outs but Ireland will have all its payments made by February. Ireland is only six to eight weeks behind in ensuring the new EU regulations relating to digitised mapping are strictly adhered to. The Northern Ireland agriculture Department will be fined €100 million, which amounts to one third of the disadvantaged area scheme budget, for overpayments due to poor mapping. If this were applied to this part of the island, it would mean a fine of €500 million. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is to be complimented for rolling out the map digitisation programme successfully in this difficult year.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Connick, for this debate on the important report, Food Harvest 2020. Unless action backed by serious political conviction is taken on its recommendations, it will remain on the shelf like all those reports on Seanad reform.

The single largest scourge in our society during these difficult economic times is unemployment. We have debated the issue at length in the House with many good suggestions on tackling it. I have consistently raised the employment creation opportunities in the marine sector which comes under the Minister of State's remit. Providing incentives at policy level is a revenue-neutral way of creating sustainable jobs in the rural economy. For every one person employed in the fishing industry, it in turn results in 1.5 more jobs in the community. The fishing industry sustained our coastal communities and country in the past. It can be used again to create sustainable jobs.

At this afternoon's meeting with the IFA at the Davenport Hotel, the serious issues facing the agriculture sector were spelled out. With strong political action, the concerns of those in the sector can be allayed and it can be allowed to reach its maximum potential.

The food harvest report states Ireland can become synonymous with sustainable and welfare friendly products giving higher value to consumers. The Bord Iascaigh Mhara facility in Clonakilty has a seafood development section. By providing technological resources and scientific advice to fishermen and the fish processing industry, Ireland can produce an excellent high end value fish product. We have seen how creating a top brand can assist in developing international exports like what Nokia did for Finland and Abba for Sweden. Ireland can do the same delivering a top-class seafood product brand which will provide sustainable jobs in rural and coastal communities.

By 2025 the world's population will have reached a staggering 8 billion with food becoming an even more important commodity. Ireland has the natural resources and expertise in agrifood and aquaculture to step up to the mark to become a leading international food provider.

The food harvest report foresees Irish companies increasingly recognising that sharing resources through strategic initiatives will be central to knowledge generation, pursuing consumer and market trends and making the best use of human capital. Consolidation, collaboration and competition, the three Cs, will be central to this approach. Liquidity and access to suitable credit lines will be absolutely important for sustaining agrifood industries. The banking system in the country at present would have been unimaginable some years ago. The banks are receiving massive bailouts and State supports. However, at local level no one, including small and medium enterprises and small, family run businesses, is getting the essential ingredient to stay alive in business, that is, access to credit. I have stated in the House time and again in the context of the current budgetary discussions that if we leave the banking sector to its own devices it will never do anything that is not legally required of it. Given the amount of help received and the extent to which the country has bailed out banks and propped up the banking sector, not least in the case of Anglo Irish Bank, which will be a millstone around the necks of people for generations, the least we should expect is somequid pro quo.

Lines of credit should be opened to small and medium-sized businesses. The days of attracting vast jobs to rural areas are long gone. Let us consider family run enterprises. I am lucky to be from west Cork. I recall being in London some years ago. Let us consider Carberry milk products. I remember visiting a store near Harlesden, London and seeing Dubliner Irish Cheese and Clonakilty Irish Yogurt in the dairy cabinet. These products were produced by the Carberry milk products plant in Balineen, seven miles from where I live. Clonakilty Irish Yoghurt, a strong brand, is produced 14 miles from where I live. Nevertheless, many years ago in London a store sold these products because we had the expertise in food science and the entrepreneurs, who drove those products. These people set very high standards, created jobs and contributed to the economy all along the line, not least in terms of exports, one of the few beacons for the country at present. Our exports are in good shape. We should be proud of this and expand on it. Like little acorns, we must start from something small and begin to provide credit to businesses which need access to markets and finance to stay in business.

The Irish agrifood and fisheries industries' continued ability to compete on the home and export markets is critical to their viability up to 2020 and beyond. Issues arise related to costs and professional fees which must be examined as well. We should examine what inhibits the growth of business at present. Many businesses have gone to the wall. The organisations representing the relevant people and public representatives are fully aware of the issues, which have been communicated to us from people involved at the coalface. We must turn that knowledge into a metal that informs our thinking and how we proceed.

Senator, you have one minute remaining.

Other issues arise with regard to environmental sustainability. The green image will give us an advantage in marketing and it will help us to trade internationally. The issue of climate change is relevant. There should be co-operation with other authorities, such as universities and other third level institutions, which provide training and knowledge for people such that they can train generations of people in the various strains of industry that will impact on this area in the coming years.

We must be careful not to lose these people as we did in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s to the blight of emigration. If we do, there will be a brain drain and we will not benefit from the experience and knowledge these people built up through their studies and short working lives, which has been the case in the recent examples. The jobs are simply no longer there. If we lose that expertise to other countries we will be at a significant disadvantage.

I refer to an article in this morning'sIrish Examiner by Conor Power concerning the issue of resources for job creation. I realise this is separate to the Food Harvest 2020 report but there is an intrinsic link between this report and the matter under discussion because all of this relates to job sustainability, job protection and, critically, job creation.

Will the Senator conclude?

If we immerse ourselves in cutting and reducing public sector spending and a banking policy, we ignore the elephant in the room, that is, the issue of unemployment. The article in question is geographically slanted towards west Cork which, it claims, is a black spot for jobs services. I encourage everyone to read it because it informs us that at present the spread of resources available for training, developing skills and getting people back into the workforce is unevenly balanced. Let us consider the labour activation issue, which did not produce one cent extra for Cork city and county. That was not good enough. We must re-invigorate schemes in place to provide incentives to create jobs in rural areas.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Connick. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on Food Harvest 2020 — A Vision for Irish Agri-food and Fisheries. It is of great importance to the north east. My parish of Monasterboice and the neighbouring areas of Termonfeckin and the Ardee area are great agricultural areas in the north east. People there wish to see the benefits of the proposals. I am heartened to see short, medium and long term goals in the report because they will be essential in future. Key growth targets in the report indicate to those involved in the sector that we are providing leadership, inspiration and targets for them to hit and the direction in which we wish to see them going, which is important.

The Minister and other speakers have emphasised the key growth targets for 2020, the need to increase the value of the agrifood, fisheries and wood products sectors by €3 billion, which represents a 40% increase compared to 2008, and the need to achieve an export target of €12 billion for these sectors. This is very important in the current climate.

As the budget approaches I hear people on local radio and in newspapers discuss fear and concern for the future. However, we should consider what is happening with exports, which are increasing. This is already happening. It is not a plan for the future; it is already taking place and the short and medium term goals feed into this process.

The third key target of increasing the value of primary output in the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors by €1.5 billion would represent a 33% increase compared to the average between 2007 and 2009. This is essential for progress in the years ahead.

The report refers to the fisheries sector as well. I have worked in recent months with the fishermen in Clara Head. Previous speakers have referred to a concern, a historical worry, whereby Irish fishermen believe they do not get a fair crack at the whip. When the fisheries deal was signed in the early 1970s in Europe, things were in a very different place in many respects. The idea of different ships has changed a good deal.

The key message to send to people is that no longer are agriculture and fisheries playing second fiddle in terms of where the economy and the country is headed. Agri-food and fisheries represent Ireland's largest indigenous industry. Senator Mooney always highlights issues related to tourism, the second largest indigenous industry. These are the two strands on which Ireland should focus in future. Agri-food alone employs 150,000 people directly with an annual output of €24 billion, a figure which should not be underestimated. People often pass comment or pay lip service and say this area is important. However, it is singular to highlight the direct jobs created and the sheer volume of €24 billion and what this translates to in practice in Ireland. Agriculture also represents 60% of manufacturing exports by indigenous firms. With €7 billion in exports the sector currently accounts for more than half of manufacturing exports by Irish-owned firms. The sector serves in excess of 160 export destinations. This is the beauty of Irish agriculture and products.

As other Senators have noted, when we go abroad we see Irish names and products stacked on the shelves of the shops in hundreds of countries, something we should never forget. The Irish message and brand is so effective abroad. The Irish Diaspora are very keen to see Irish names on their doorstep. However, that is simply considering the matter from an aesthetic perspective. This is the reality of what is taking place in terms of creating jobs in Ireland.

I listened carefully to the Minister's opening speech. He is keen on pushing the Food Harvest 2020 report. The fact that he will chair the high level group to ensure the effective implementation of the report's recommendations is important. The presence of a Minister at that level is significant. By having the Minister of State in the House, we are showing the people how seriously we are taking this matter. It is important the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has taken on this role. The variety of membership and the cross-sectoral nature of the membership of the committee is important. Senator Ó Brolcháin mentioned the smart, green approach. These are trendy terms. People ask me what the smart economy means. I explain to them that it means the farmer who is milking more and the businessman who is dealing with his waste or energy bills more effectively and efficiently. That is what the smart economy means on a practical level.

Food Harvest 2020 recommends a smart approach. That means investing in ideas, knowledge, skills and practical matters in being innovative and creative in one's sector. I will listen intently to the conclusion by the Minister of State, Deputy Connick. It is key that we have this goal. We should not do something in the budget that will harm the implementation and effectiveness of this report. This report is energising farmers, not just in County Louth and the north east but throughout the country. If we implement the plan, it could be a fantastic, transformative document for Irish agriculture.

I have listened with interest to the comments from all sides of the House. I thank Senators for their contributions and especially for their engagement with the Food Harvest 2020 report, which we all agree represents an excellent blueprint to see the sector into the next decade. I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed by many speakers on the potential of the agriculture, food, fisheries and forestry sectors. The food and drink sector has significant potential as part of an export-led recovery. Export-led growth will play a key role in our economic recovery, not least for the reason that the agrifood sector has strong links with domestic economic activity and has a significant geographic spread. We hear much talk about stimulus, and the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors are a natural stimulus. We hope it is an area that can be protected in the budget in order that it can lead us from our difficult economic challenges.

The issue of the economic situation was raised by a number of speakers. We are living through challenging economic times. Through a combination of internal and external factors, the economy has suffered a sharp decline in recent years. To ensure we can develop a platform for renewed economic growth, we must address our fiscal situation. The Cabinet spent Monday and Tuesday of this week considering budgetary options for the December budget and for the multi-annual plan to meet our stated commitment of reducing our deficit to 3% of GDP by 2014. Difficult decisions must be taken but the aim is to ensure they do not have an unfair impact on any sector of society. This backdrop presents significant challenges for all actors with a role in developing the sector. The report is addressed as much to farmers, fishermen and industry as to the Government. While there will be significant resource requirements, the 2020 committee agreed that it envisages the prioritisation of policy from the report will be based on the re-prioritisation of existing resources as opposed to making new resources of State funding available. Regarding Government funding, the report offers a strategy and a vision to guide our prioritisation and the allocation of Exchequer resources. It is critical to ensure all Government and EU spending in the sector achieves maximum bang for our buck. Having a clear strategy to guide our choice of priorities is an important step to achieving that.

The immediate outlook for the agrifood sector is improving. Farm output has increased by €300 million compared with 2009. The value of exports, at almost €3 billion during the first five months of 2010, is almost 8% higher than one year earlier. This is good news for farmers, their families and the rural economy. It provides a positive and realistic platform from which to continue to grow. I was struck by the positive attitude throughout the development of Food Harvest 2020 and it creates a useful springboard to ensure the successful implementation of actions detailed in the report. Senator Phelan pointed out that money filtered down from the farmer and that when the farmer had money, everyone had money. This is a theory to which I aspire and which I can support. I have seen it at first hand. Senator Phelan is a neighbour of mine and lives not too many miles away from me. His late father used to buy his cars from my late father. The connection exists and the money filters down through the system. When the farmer has money, everyone has money and the economy benefits.

I refer to the impact the successful achievement of the goals set out in the report will have on employment. I also wish to expand on the subject of implementation, which was highlighted by many speakers. The increased output identified in the Food Harvest 2020 report has the potential to create further employment in the SME, artisan food and processing sectors. In light of countervailing trends in the processing sector towards further consolidation, lean manufacturing and rationalisation at primary producer level, however, further analysis is required to determine the precise net impact on employment levels. The initial estimates by Enterprise Ireland based on the output growth targets proposed in the report suggest a net gain of 3,500 to 4,000 jobs in the food sector by 2020 is possible. This more than counteracts the net loss of 1,500 jobs in the past decade.

Prospects of increased employment are also good in micro-food companies employing fewer than five employees. These micro-enterprises are generally not captured in statistics but are important local generators of employment and innovation. I was heartened by the response to Enterprise Ireland's call for food innovation vouchers which the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Smith launched with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, during the summer. In excess of 100 food companies identified an innovation need and a third level research partner that can assist them in providing solutions using a €5,000 voucher. To date, 94 have been awarded vouchers. The clustering of food companies and the identification of areas of competition where distribution networks may be shared are also contributing to the resilience of the sector. The additional funding provided to Bord Bia from marketing initiatives and to Enterprise Ireland for lean manufacturing has improved competitiveness and contributed to the stabilisation of employment in the sector. A second cohort of 25 Bord Bia Smurfit marketing fellows have begun work with food companies. Individually, these are small steps but are well targeted and are producing direct gains that build capability and confidence in our capacity to achieve the ambitions set out in Food Harvest 2020.

Particular potential also exists in the sea fisheries and aquaculture sector for a step change in development and an increase in employment from 11,000 to 14,000 full-time equivalent jobs by 2020 and by capitalising on strong demand and adopting the strategy set out in the report. Senators McCarthy and Carroll referred to the aquaculture sector and fisheries. That is my area of responsibility and we have tried to work our way through barriers that prevent the development of the aquaculture sector and the job creation and export potential that exists. There is a multi-million market for aquaculture.

This brings me to the matter of action. While some reservations have been expressed about the implementation process, I emphasise my commitment and the commitment of the Department to delivering on the potential identified in the report. I refer to the Government assurances that it will do all it can to allow the sector to deliver on its potential. The Government has wholeheartedly endorsed Food Harvest 2020 and, in particular, the substantial growth prospects in the sector, recognising that the achievement of this requires the application of smart technology and processes, the necessary structural and operational changes to maximise competitiveness and the achievement, communication and branding of scientifically validated sustainability credentials.

We intend to ensure the strategy will be successfully implemented. I referred to the establishment by the Minister of a high level implementation committee to ensure effective, joined-up implementation, including consideration and prioritisation of how best to pursue the 200 recommendations made. This action group comprises part of the flexible structure put in place to ensure the appropriate actions are taken. The flexible structure will facilitate an action orientated working method, and the recently announced dairy expansion group is a good example of how this will operate.

On the dairy side, there is a clear need to take immediate and commercially sensitive decisions to ensure we expand production and have sufficient and competitive processing capacity. With that in mind, we have set up an activation group involving Teagasc, which has the expertise and best practice on maximising output, farmers, who are able practitioners and are best placed to assess the advice given and use it to increase production, and the industry chief executive officers, who are the key movers on ensuring streamlined, competitive processing capacity. This group must report back to me through the high level committee in November with its decisions. It is evident it is not just a talking shop. Rather, it is a focused action group representing the key actors along the food chain. It has a specific task to work collaboratively and constructively to arrive at the necessary decision within a short timeframe. This cohesive, directed action group is the best way to achieve the desired buy-in by participants to ensure the outcomes envisaged in Food Harvest 2020.

The importance of research and innovation was emphasised in the Food Harvest 2020 report as a prerequisite to achieving the growth targets for the agrifood sector. In response to the report and to ensure the agrifood industry continues to play a key role in Ireland's smart economy, the Minister recently announced a call for research proposals worth €10 million. This will include a joint firm-stimulus desk-based analysis to address the issue of competitiveness raised in the Food Harvest 2020 report. Those examples clearly highlight the urgency with which we are dealing with the priorities identified in the report.

Senator Mooney raised the issue of the Irish Dairy Board, the expansion of the dairy industry and who pays. On why only 60% of processors are involved with the Irish Dairy Board, the answer lies with the choice of individual processors and the paths to market they choose. That can be based on individual processors' commercial considerations but the Food Harvest 2020 report stresses the need for greater collaboration among stakeholders in the agrifood industry and dairy sector. The other question that arises is who is paying for the expansion. That is a key issue that is being examined by the dairy activation group.

I thank Senators for their suggestions and active engagement with this important debate. It is obvious each speaker places great significance on the potential of the sector and in ensuring it flourishes. It has been evident to me that there is a real intent on the part of all stakeholders in the sector similarly to step up to the challenge associated with the implementation of the report. Much hard work has been done to get us to this stage. The Government will do all in its power to ensure the growth and vision clearly identified in the Food Harvest 2020 report is fully achieved. That will ensure the sector's potential contribution to our economic, environmental and social well-being is maximised.