Irish Agricultural Progress Provides Valuable Examples for All Ag ProducersTue, 07 Jan 2014 14:40:07 CST
Agriculture committee chairmen and women from state legislatures all across the country met in Oklahoma City last weekend in the 13th annual Legislative Chairs Summit. The meeting was an opportunity to explore policy issues facing the nation's-and the world's-farmers as they seek to feed an ever-growing population.
One of the speakers at the conference was Dr. John Dardis, the first secretary of agriculture and food in Ireland. He spoke with Radio Oklahoma Network Farm Director Ron Hays about his perspective on issues facing today's agriculture industry. (You can listen to the full interview by clicking on the LISTEN BAR at the bottom of this story.)
"I wear many hats: I'm a wheat farmer. I'm a wheat breeder and I represent our industry's interests throughout the U.S.A."
He says there are numerous exciting and revolutionary developments happening in the agricultural industry in Ireland that are valuable for the whole world.
"A recurring theme at the likes of this conference or wherever I go is a frustration that our industry is often neglected. We felt that at home as well. What our industry is doing now is phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal. We are doing over 500,000 tons of beef exports a year which puts us in the top five globally. We're the size of South Carolina and we're doing that off of grass.
"I think the particularly interesting and exciting thing about our industry is what we are going to do on dairy and it all arises from the fact that quotas are disappearing back home. That should see us as a top-five dairy country within the next six to eight years. So, it's an exciting time to be a farmer."
Dardis says people are astonished at the progress Ireland has made on the global agriculture stage in a few short decades.
"People often ask me about how we get our protein to deliver our beef, but, really, our big asset is grass. By a gift of God we think we produce it better than anyone else. We have a good Gulfstream that gives us a high DND. It keeps our cost base low. That's our secret weapon."
He said another secret weapon that is available to all producing countries despite their location is adding value. That is nowhere more evident than in the dairy segment where more and more Irish exports are not fluid milk, but prepared milk products.
"The key to our export success, and in the last three years we've grown our exports by about 30 percent to $12 billion, the key to it is kind of a diversified, high-value product as opposed to a commodity exporter. So, particularly in the infant milk formula business, we're doing over 12 percent of the global infant milk business out of our island. And we're doing a lot of sort of nutritional milk products. We're doing functional foods. So, it's the high-value dairy products that we're trying to corner."
Another corner that Irish cattlemen had to turn was the mad-cow disease or BSE scare from several years back. Dardis said while those days may be behind them, the effects linger on in a positive way.
"What I try to tell people in America is how that affected us. It devastated our industry. Absolutely devastated it. One of the concerns that we have is we just seem to go from one issue to the other and it's very hard to handle the knee-jerk media reaction. And all you can do is be ten steps ahead of everything.
"One of the exciting things we have is a project called Origin Green which is a sustainability project. That is seeing our exporters sign up to particular metrics. Now, behind all that, it's internationally audited. But, there again, it means that you're a step all the time ahead of regulations and you're giving consumers what they want which sells more product."
As the world's population grows, keeping up with that demand for agricultural products will not be easy. As a farmer and government official, Dardis says, there is only one way to ensure food sufficiency for all:
"Stop a lot of the nonsense. Currently we have a trade discussion going on between the EU and the US. Really, to reach an understanding, we've got to be talking to each other and we're not doing it. We're going in with preconceived ideas about what the other side is doing. I think we've got to use every tool in the box and part of that is biotechnology. We've got to think drastically different. And we've got to empower people. The fascinating thing with the World Food Prize that I went to last year, it brings in farmers from developing countries. Let's listen to them not tell them what we think they should do. Let's listen to how they're making a difference and give them the tools to make that difference."
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