The new Agri-Food Strategy to 2030 – the successor to Food Wise 2025 – will see an increased focus on non-farm incomes to support the viability of part-time farm households.
In a draft document seen by Agriland – which is due to be published for public consultation in the coming days – the strategy acknowledges that primary producers “feel that the prices they receive for their products do not improve while their costs are increasing and they are asked to meet higher environmental standards”.
However, despite the fact that “these assertions are supported by evidence”, the strategy document states that the issue of prices is “complex and not amenable to easy solutions”.
The strategy appears somewhat downbeat on the prospect of food prices, noting that projections “suggest that this trend of stable or a slight reduction in the real price of food will continue over the next decade”.
“Against these relatively sombre price prospects, the strategy seeks to find some positives for the future,” the document says.
Some actions highlighted to alleviate this situations includes ongoing work on transparency (including a proposed food ombudsman), as well as addressing the relative lack of producer organisations and EU geographical indications in Ireland.
The strategy states that the number of full-time farmers earning their living exclusively from farming is likely to continue to fall over the next decade, while the trend that non-farm income “will enable part-time farmers to have viable farm household income will also increase”.
The strategy outlines some alternative income sources not directly tied to food production.
These include the further development of carbon farming, where a regulatory framework for certifying carbon removals will underpin a payment to farmers.
The strategy also proposes the scaling-up of renewable energy resources, particularly anaerobic digestion and solar energy.
The strategy also notes some scope for embedding agriculture in the ‘circular economy’, where opportunities might come from the use of raw materials from livestock, arable, marine and horticulture systems in each other’s supply chains.
It is also suggested the the government’s recently-announced Rural Development Strategy will play a role in determining incomes and employment opportunities for those in farm households as part of the wider rural community.
‘Resilience and diversification’
All of the above points come under the ‘Economic Sustainability’ heading of the strategy document.
Another sub-point of this section is: “Working towards a more resilient and diversified sector”.
The stated aim of this is to allow the sector to “cope with risks associated with changes in economic and climate circumstances”.
While grass-based production of milk, beef and sheep will continue to account for the dominant part of agri-food output, the strategy proposes that there should be “better integration” within the sector, including dairy/beef and dairy/tillage “linkages”.
The strategy also proposes expansion in tillage, horticulture and organic farming, as well as a programme to reduce Ireland’s dependence on imported protein crops.
Sustainability in agri-food
Environmental sustainability is set to be an even bigger part of this agri-food strategy than that current one.
Promotion of Ireland’s ‘clean green’ image is set to remain a key part of the country’s food strategy, and to that end both Bord Bia and Teagasc will collaborate to support the reduction of agricultural emissions and develop Ireland’s reputation as a sustainable food source.
The strategy also notes that demonstrating a high standard of sustainability “offers the best approach for seeking enhanced market share or a price premium”.
The strategy goes on to state: “If it is accepted that part of the sustainability vision is that farmers should receive better price for their produce, there is scope for processors and retailers to contribute to this discussion.”
The strategy highlights “a need for a wider public discussion on the role of food in society, including the price people are willing to pay for it”.
As well as that, the strategy notes national and international debate on meat and milk alternatives and the role of animal-sourced foods in diets.
The strategy will include a statement on the value of animal-sourced foods in diets for children, adolescents and adults.