Meat and livestock was a star performer, with growth of 11% to €2.8bn in 2011, according to export statistics from Bord Bía (Irish Food Board) published on 11 January.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney, TD, said at the launch of the report that these figures, combined with recent farm income figures, should help to maintain confidence in the ability of the agri-food sector to drive economic growth. Expecting growth to come in new markets, such as Africa, Russia and China, the Minister said he would visit China soon. “A Chinese delegation visited Ireland recently and were particularly impressed with our grass-based production systems,” he said.
Export Performance & Prospects 2011-2012 stated that while there was increased export revenue for beef, pigmeat, sheepmeat and poultry, these were offset by reduced exports of livestock (mainly live cattle) which fell by 16% to €205m. The value of beef exports increased by 15% to sales of €1.8bn and lower volumes were offset by stronger prices (10%-18% higher).
During 2011, some 96% of Irish beef exports went to EU markets (half and half to the UK and Continental Europe respectively). Ireland has moved on from low-value commodity markets and, since 2007, the volume of Irish beef going into premium retail and foodservice markets doubled. Exports of Irish beef to international markets are estimated to have increased by 30% to 20,000 tonnes, worth €70m.
The report predicts that, in 2012, European beef output will drop by 3% – mainly in France, the UK and Ireland. EU beef consumption is under pressure, because of austerity measures in member states. EU-15 consumption is falling by 1% to 6.94 million tonnes, with the strongest falls in the UK and Spain. The report cautions further dampening in demand could negatively impact on price levels, especially if there are more price promotions in the UK. However, as there will be tight supply, it is hoped cattle prices will be maintained.
Aidan Cotter, chief executive of Bord Bía, said sustainability was increasingly important and the carbon footprint of over 13,000 Irish beef farms had already been measured as part of the quality assurance scheme. “It is clear that groups like World Wildlife Fund (who recently visited Ireland) are driving sustainability in beef and other sectors and therefore putting pressure on the customer base, retailers and all manufacturers to take more care of the environment and be able to prove the measures they are taking. Whatever happens about [reduced] consumer spending during the credit crunch retailers and manufacturers will be looking for this [sustainability],” he said. He explained that sustainability would be central to a marketing initiative to be launched later in the year.
A combined increase in volume and price for pigmeat resulted in an 18% increase in exports to almost €395m. The international demand for EU pigmeat, combined with some slowdown in production, helped boost EU pig prices by 9% or 13c/kg during 2011, although there was pressure on Irish producers, with ongoing high feed costs. The report forecasts a 2% increase in the global output of pigmeat in 2012, but lower EU pig production (by at least 1.3%) in 2012.
Poultry meat exports increased by 3% to €210m and sheep meat by 10% to €180m.