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Understanding your competitiveness is more important than ever with free trade getting more restricted

Beef and sheep farmers around the globe are facing a range of severe challenges, not the least of which is the growing threats to trade access and the increasing compartmentalisation of trade governed by a myriad of complex bilateral agreements. This was one of the main findings of the 16th agri benchmark Beef and Sheep Conference which opened Friday, 14th June, in Galway. It is the first time for these events to take place in Ireland.

Understanding your competitiveness is more important than ever with free trade getting more restricted
A selection of participants pictured at The Global Forum Conference in the Galway Bay Hotel.

In this environment, it is essential that countries better understand their relative cost of production and global competitiveness. This is a vital input into guiding the production and marketing for the world market, in framing of bilateral trade deals and in targeting research and development to improve farm productivity.

Professor Gerry Boyle, Teagasc Director officially opened the Global forum of the 16th agri benchmark Beef and Sheep Conference. He highlighted a number of important initiatives in Ireland to promote sustainable beef and sheep production such as the Grass10 campaign and the Grassland Farmer of the Year competition. “This is the second year of the competition which acknowledges dairy, beef and sheep farmers who are achieving high levels of grass utilisation on their farms. The farm you visited on Saturday, Des and Frank Beirne in Longford was a finalist in this competition last year and Catherine Egan, Teagasc in her presentation later will talk a little more about Grass 10 and highlight some findings on the Beirnes farm. This competition promotes the effective utilisation of the national grassland resource.”

Speaking in Galway, Anne Kinsella, economist with Teagasc, and Irish agri benchmark representative, said: “I am honoured that Teagasc are hosting the agri benchmark conference for the first time, which brings over 40 participants from almost 30 countries to Ireland to see first-hand the grazing system operated by Irish beef and sheep farms and to discuss the latest international beef and sheep developments. I am very proud as the Irish representative in this network, to have been given this opportunity to showcase my home county of Galway and the wider west region and the work of my Teagasc colleagues to our international partners. It is an opportune time for this event to take place in Ireland given the rising positive perception of grass-fed animals and associated meat quality and promotion programmes.”

Galway and the West of Ireland has been designated as the European Region of Gastronomy for 2018,  so this week’s long event will provide many opportunities to showcase Irish agriculture and food, right through the value chain, from farm to fork.

The Global Forum today, Monday, 18 June attracts an audience of over 100 and a range of international and domestic speakers discussing a wide range of topics from recent policy and trade developments through competitiveness to sustainability. Details of the programme and selected presentations are available on the agri benchmark website.

Dr Claus Deblitz, coordinator for the network from the German Thünen Institute of Farm Economics, said: “I can see Ireland’s experience in grazing systems serving as an example for other world regions – mostly characterised by different natural conditions – because the principles of sustainable and productive grazing are similar around the globe.”

Conference participants include researchers and representatives from beef / sheep related institutions, farmer organisations and companies. A key topic for discussion is how to remain competitive and at the same time reflecting society’s concerns about environment and animal welfare, all in the context of quickly developing technologies and alternative protein sources.

Peter Weeks, part of a contingent representing Australian beef and sheep producers, stated; “having visited Irish farms and spoken to farmers and industry representatives, it is clear that Irish and Australian producers face many of the same challenges, especially being a successful global exporter in a market where existing consumers are becoming more discerning on food’s quality, provenance, sustainability and safety. In addition, both countries are working to understand the special needs of emerging consumers, particularly in Asia and the Middle East.”

Sven Anders, Associate Professor, University of Alberta, Canada said: In order to get livestock producers to commit to more sustainability markets, policies need to set the right incentives. Our research evidence from Canada shows that even those producers staunchly opposed to the idea of human induced climate change, do adapt production practices that mitigate greenhouse gases.  Selling the economic benefits of sustainable production to producers’ bottom line is the way forward in driving innovation.”