Speaking following his return from Biofach, the world’s largest organic trade fair, in Nuremberg, Trevor Sargent intended reporting immediately on this trade mission. However the media story about a court case and the subsequent realisation that he had ‘over-helped’ a constituent by writing to An Garda Síochána once proceedings had begun has resulted in resignation as Minister for Food and Horticulture. The Bord Bia trade mission to the world’s largest organic trade fair in Germany was his last official function.
In reporting on Biofach 2010, the former Minister for Food and Horticulture now states:
‘Before reflecting on the success of Biofach for 14 of the top Irish organic food companies, I want to thank my former Private Secretary and my Ministerial Office Staff in Agriculture House as well as my Constituency Office Staff and Drivers for their professional support and friendship since my appointment as Minister of State in June 2007. My love and enthusiasm for the objectives which my Ministry strived (and in several ways succeeded) in achieving continue as priorities for me regardless of political mandates.
I know the Department will for example, maintain the momentum in developing the organic sector. The ‘good practise’ standard I introduced for farmers’ markets is being won by more and more markets countrywide. Local authorities and shopkeepers are seeing the benefits of weekly markets for local producers which increase footfall and develop community spirit. The pig feed problem was an example of good team work in the Department and I was glad to play my part in restoring the good name of Irish food and farming worldwide. The longer term work continues such as helping Agri Aware and Bord Bia with the vegetable and fruit growing challenges in schools. Also the Food Dudes programme is very popular. This healthy food awareness project is another example of cross Departmental priorities. The Obesity Report recommendations still need to be implemented in full. I began this work as a Minister working in both Health and Agriculture Departments. I hope my successor can hit the ground running and continue this work.
Biofach, the world organic trade fair held in Nuremberg, is in its 21st year. It is the second year Bord Bia has had an Irish stand among the 130 or so other countries represented. In 2009, I also attended Biofach along with 46,771 trade visitors who came to see and do business with some of the 2,734 exhibitors.
Germany is Ireland’s second most important food and drink market on Continental Europe (after France) with Irish exports valued at 313.5 million euro. The total organic sales in Germany have grown 10% in a year (2007-2008) and are worth 5.8 BILLION euro. In Britain, total organic sales are worth 2.1 BILLION euro. These are sadly booming markets which Irish farmers to date have paid scant regard to, except for the visionary few.
It was an honour to represent Ireland and to be of assistance to Bord Bia and the 14 Irish organic companies maintaining and growing their export businesses in Germany and beyond.
What I take from Biofach however is a very salient lesson for Irish agriculture in general. The Irish organic salmon producers have a vibrant and growing export business to Germany worth 20 million euro. Ireland’s largest organic export to Germany is therefore salmon. However seafood is only 5% of Ireland’s overall exports to Germany. 39% is dairy (Kerrygold butter in large part), 24% is prepared foods, 16% is beef, 6% pigmeat, 6% drink, 2% poultry, 1% horticulture and 1% sheepmeat.
5% may seem like a small part of overall exports to Germany but for Ireland without a long track record in organic salmon rearing to be carving out a market against the huge salmon producing countries like Norway and Chile is a phenomenon worth analysing. The key point is Irish salmon producers used their brains (helped no doubt by eating salmon!).
If Norway and Chile have the trump cards in terms of history and economy of scale in producing cheap and cheerful farmed fish, then Ireland needs to develop differently and play to our strengths. Organic certification gives us a price premium in a fast growing market for organic food in Germany as elsewhere. Our guaranteed organic status in salmon also gets a market bounce as it comes from the clean, green Emerald Isle, washed by frequent rain and an unpolluted Atlantic Ocean.
Our beef sales in Germany are under pressure. The Germans happen to like Argentinian beef. However the Argentinian beef is plentiful but not often certified as organic. Ireland has an open goal to score with organic land based produce in the way it successfully scores with organically certified seafood.
However the message is to some extent getting through. Since 2007 Irish organic food production is up 10%. That being said, Irish retail demand for organic produce is up 40% in the same period. If Irish farming and food production is to maximise its potential, more producers need to become certified as organic. I am going through this conversion as a back garden grower myself. However it is producers of every size which are needed. Now is the time. One of my last ‘wins’ in the job was to have the Organic Farming Scheme and Grant Aid Schemes re-launched in spite of budgetary cutbacks. Forms are now available from the Organic Unit, Dept. of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at Johnstown Castle in Wexford, or log on at www.agriculture.gov.ie/organics. Resources are limited however so the sooner one applies the better. The deadline is 15 May 2010.