Prospects for the agri-food sector in 2012

Teagasc economists have just released their Situation and Outlook Report for the Irish primary agriculture sector for 2012 (proceedings here and presentations here). In 2011 there was a significant and welcome recovery in farm incomes (up 33% over 2010) although this was entirely due to higher prices and higher subsidies – the volume of agricultural output (at basic prices) remained unchanged despite slightly higher volume consumption of intermediate inputs.

The Teagasc view is that the value of gross output in agriculture will fall back slightly in 2012, due to a combination of lower production in some sectors and lower prices in others. There will be some savings on input costs, but lower subsidies in 2012 (due to a carryover of payments in 2011) means that operating surplus in agriculture is expected to fall by 12%.

This compares to the estimate in the latest ESRI Quarterly Economic Commentary (August 2011) that gross value added at factor cost in agriculture, fishing and forestry would rise by 10% in 2012 (while the GVA and operating surplus concepts are not the same, they are sufficiently close to expect that they would move by similar percentage changes).

It is not clear if this discrepancy is due to a downward revision of price prospects for 2012 in the last six months since the ESRI forecast was prepared, or whether the two agencies have formed different views on the underlying buoyancy of the sector.

In commenting on the impressive performance of agrifood exports in 2011 – according to Bord Bia they accounted for 25% of the overall growth in export earnings in 2011 – , the Irish Exporters’ Association noted:

The continued rapid expansion in this sector will have a very wide ranging impact on the economy as a whole as there are a wide range of producers, sub-suppliers and added value manufacturers in the sector who should now have the confidence to expand their workforce.

However, the success of the export sector in the past two years has not yet translated into a noticeable increase in the demand for jobs. A new IIIS Discussion Paper by one of my former graduate students uses a recently constructed Social Accounting Matrix of the Irish economy for 2005 to calculate multiplier values for the food and drink industry and compares them with other traded sectors.

The multiplier values illustrate the different degrees to which individual economic sectors are embedded within the economy and the strength of the indirect and induced effects of an exogenous increase in the demand for sector output. The results confirm that an expansion in the food and drink industry has greater multiplier effects for the rest of the economy than an expansion of the modern manufacturing sectors, although the differences are not as significant as sometimes supposed.

For example, an exogenous increase of €100 million in exports from the food and drink industries would lead to a total increase in output of €200.9 million and additional value added (GDP) of €74.7 million. A similar increase in the exports of the chemical industry would lead to a total increase in output of €159.6 million and additional value added of €60.5 million (some of which would be repatriated as profit outflows).

A similar injection of €100 million in additional exports would increase household income by €36.4 million and €25.9 million, respectively. The calculated employment multipliers are 10.3 per €1 million of additional output in the food and drinks industry and 3.5 for a similar increase in output in the chemical industry. However, much of the employment change attributed to the food industry would show up in the agricultural sector, and particularly for this sector there is reason to doubt that using the average employment intensity to infer employment changes in response to marginal increases in output is valid.

What the multiplier values do not show is whether the spin-off effects of an increase in export earnings differ depending on whether the export increase is driven largely by prices or by volume. Intuitively, one would expect stronger feedback effects from a volume increase (because of the increased level of activity as well as the positive respending effects) than from a similar increase in export demand arising from higher prices (where the main impacts are due to the respending of higher profits and wages alone).

The fact that much of the recent growth in the value of output of the agri-food sector has come from increases in prices rather than volume may help to explain the limited impact this growth has had on employment to date.

33 replies on “Prospects for the agri-food sector in 2012”

And is there someone crunching numbers for a utter collapse in everything. Remember all of these numbers are dependent on the status quo. While the price of agri land is at a ludicrous level things are precarious for they provide no reasonable return. Remember land prices in the UK is at an equally insane level. Ditto Belgium and France.

Very interesting. Thank you. For anyone in sucklers with weanings and light stores coming up to xmas, the price incentive to send them to the factory rather than fatten on for summer was very strong. Weanings between 380kg and 420kg were pulling in around €930 averaged – big saving on winter feed. Personally, i don’t believe the high cost of stores will be justified by Summer prices, not the way things are shaping up in Europe.

Additionally, your point about the multiplier effect re agri-industry has only been belated recognised in Leinster House. Prior to the crisis, the faithful were plumbing purely for digital cream. Agriculture was something to be googled rather worked in.

GDP multipliers not massively higher for agri-food versus modern manufacturing but the the GNP multipliers must look a lot better Alan?

nice business if you can get it – income up 33% on same level of output
how come prices and subsidies went up simultaneously?

I’m not an economist, but I’ve recently inherited a few hectares and keep a small sheep flock. The recent upturn in prices for primary producers has been stunning; especially considering the price doldrums previously experienced. Those doldrums; coupled with employment opportunities elsewhere and the retirement of many older farmers (a lot don’t retire until death/incapacity!) meant the national herds and flocks were declining at an increasing rate. To farmers it feels like all the middle men’s (processors et al.) incessant price-cutting (the primary producer can’t do the same!) has finally led to a supply side shortage and the tables have been turned. There’s also a sense of foreboding though that the rapid price increases mean the market is entering a very volatile phase….

haroldscross –
agriculture is a dangerous business of vital importance to the day-to-day survival of humanity.
the rise in income has to be put in context of extremely poor performance (relative to other sectors) in preceding years.
there’s no doubt that the subsidy system both props up inefficency and impedes dynamism in the sector (although other factors including many farmers conservatism also play a role) – but many of us in the oil-fuelled economy we exist in have very little concept of food scarcity. We take for granted the (fragile?) supply chain that provides foodstuffs for the millions of city-dwellers in the world.
Nice business for all of humanity!

What will be the outcomes for agri when (not if) subsidies have to be pared back, and eventually stopped? Taxpayers cannot be looted indefinitely by legislators addicted to spending taxpayers money for political reasons, and inefficient businesses on rent-seeking pathways.

This might be a somewhat disagreeable subject of conversation.

@Brian Woods Snr

Theoretically at least subsidies are supposed to compensate for the higher cost of producing food to European standards, so if they go I’d suggest we would see huge pressure to have technologies like GM, animal growth promoters and feed additives which are widely used around the world in countries which export into the EU allowed here.

There would also probably be big implications for the landscape in the less productive areas of the country, Sitka Spruce instead of Charolais?

@JO’L: Thanks for that. I do ‘farm’, like GuF above. But I am also a distressed taxpayer, and there is only so much legislators can loot (I deliberately use this emotive term) from us – and yes our current tax structures are both inequitable, and inadequate.

Subsidies (in the main) are akin to a supply of an addictive substance (alcohol, nicotine, Solpadene, or “whatever your having yourself”). The addicts have to come to a psychological realization that they must stop, else they are ‘dead’. Big, steep hill climb.

The current financial mess has signalled a clear message. A state can only survive when its gov spends what it garners in taxes. All borrowing for day-to-day spending (agri subsidies) has to cease. Very big, very steep hill climb! I guess its a lesson that will be both ignored (addicts are in denial) and un-learnt (addiction continues). Reality eventually arrives.

GuF seems to have a keen ‘nose’ for the predicament. No subsidies means, absolutely, lower output levels. That is where we are headed.

Scrub the Sitka. Plant any broadleaf that will take hold. That’s a win-win game. It may be about productivity and competitivness at the moment, but by the end of decade it will be about energy, food and potable water security. That’s only 7 years from now!

It’s a pity that the increase in incomes THIS YEAR is greeted with the kneejerk “looting” style cynicism of the non-farming community. One good year does not a lucrative industry make. Farming is a multi-year business and who knows what next year or the next 5 years will bring.
The subsidies are a problem but how say, cattle farmers, are supposed to produce meat that conforms to all the regulations, and yet compete with product from outside the EU free of all such impositions – without a subsidy – is not clear to me.
Consumers can’t shriek about quality and traceability AND demand that this be achieved without subsidy. (well they can, but it’s illogical of course).
Consumers demand cheap food, produced all year round.
I think a more important issue is the structural one of the lack of availability of agricultural land for sale. Apart from the huge emotional attachment to the land (which cannot be underestimated) the single payment does mean that the non=productive owners are under no pressure whatsoever to sell land, thus restricting the expansion plans of younger more ambitious farmers. This issue might be resolved with time as the older generation die off. But accelerating this process, if a solution can be found, would be, literally, productive.

Easy up Sarah. I use the term ‘loot’ to refer specifically to our legislators (and their sychophantic acolytes) who ahve a very bad addiction problem: spending other peoples (us taxpayer’s) money. This is, currently an almost no-go area of discussion. And any attempt at a meaningful discussion of the ;substantive issue’ – Gov can only spend what it garners in taxes (for day-to-day expenditures) and must stop borrowing for that purpose.

That’s the issue.

You do raise some very tricky issues – and I have no easy answers. But subsidies have to cease. They are economically and financially very destructive – of our society, albeit some few do benefit. At the expense of the rest.

“Consumers demand cheap food, produced all year round.” Well its ‘tuff s**t times. This will be a museum exhibit soon.

We’ll be back on this topic real quick.


It may be time to ditch a lot of the regulations. Beyond the basics that we insist on wherever food comes from, and regulations designed to protect farmers from each others’ choices, we should probably largely leave it to consumers to vote with their wallets on the standards they want.

These days, a lot of the main European grocery retailers have demanding specifications for the food they sell, whatever its origin, driven by consumer preferences. At farm level, these are expressed through GAP (Good Agricultural Practice) standards that apply wherever the food comes from, allowing producers to compete on a level playing field.

It seems to me that Ireland’s and the EU’s regulatory systems are unnecessarily duplicating the work of the big grocery retailers, and that this is what is tilting the playing field in such a way that Irish farmers need subsidies to redress the balance. Take a slashhook to regulations that don’t apply to foods imported from outside the EU, and the problem will be largely solved.

I don’t believe that unnecessarily demanding regulation is the whole problem ‘though. There’s vast operational inefficiency too, partly because of major inefficiencies of scale. It seems to me that the principal effect of subsidies is to preserve these inefficiencies, by making grossly uneconomic holdings marginally viable.

@Michael Hennigan

“Greencore… It began trading today – – only in sterling. The CEO is a brother of the Minister for Agriculture.”

Now that is interesting.

I wouldn’t say “unnecessarily demanding regulation”

Food security and quality are important and taken for granted until there’s a crisis.

You know the hysteria (and right concern) that occurs when there’s a health issue.

I agree that the retailers are an important source of quality demand. but if you do leave it to consumers to vote with their wallets, then it’s crappy cheap food you’ll get.

Your final point on the operational inefficiency is key and related to that problem of land supply which in turn is connected to the de-coupling of productivity and subsidy that seemed to solve one problem (over-production) but created another – unproductive land not changing hands.

Although- might keep in mind too that the upside of that is the environmental gain. What you gain in “operational efficiency” you could lose in the environment. I’m sure you’re familiar with central France say and thousands of acres absent hedgerows and accompanying wildlife.

The unproductive farmer is also a “guardian” of the countryside,

That has a knock on effect too for tourism.

It’s complicated.


“if you do leave it to consumers to vote with their wallets, then it’s crappy cheap food you’ll get”

It’s already happening…. but one has to be careful of defamation laws 🙁

@Michael H

CAP has kept many subeconmic farms ticking over, and in the process locked up land that should be on the market. The whole system of farm payments has been riddled with nonsense since its inception. Probably the most appalling waste involved grant aid for buildings and improvement schemes. In almost all cases ‘aid’ was handed out without any business development plan being mandatory.

However, causative of much of the historical inertia was the Land Commission initiative. It broke up large viable farms in order to create lots of small marginally viable mickey mouse sized ‘farms’. Of course, serving the FF electoral need in the process.

Political need trashing economic interests. Nothing changes.

Consumers don’t vote exclusively with their wallets

If labelling was better they would be more selective – if food packaging included needs simple warnings like cigarettes, something like a big scarlet fluorescent sticker stating “CONTAINS GENETICALLY MODIFIED INGREDIENTS” then they would be more discerning

But the big food processors are not too keen on labelling like that and the US least of all

CAP was not only about food, it was also about maintaining social structures in the countryside, avoiding rural depopulation, peasants migrating to urban slums etc.

(Of course that is completely out of date especially in Ireland where everyone is mad keen to live in a cottage in the middle of nowhere with immediate access to urban facilities)


Agree on IFA.
They are like the Friends of the Elderly.
Everything is terrible all the time….

Sarah, the farmers are in the position of owning the Co-ops which in turn are amongst the largest food corporations in the world. So where does the benefit of owning sit. With the farmers, Nope. It sits with the management of the Co-ops and their empire building bankers.
What has happened since the mid 1920s when the co-ops were the world producer of canned milk is an asset stripping at a level and with such expertise that it has become systemic. So much so that you don’t even see it.
You need to think in terms that every pfennig and cent the farmers have received since ’72 has been moved out of the State and sits inside food companies in Wisconsin Colorado and Minnesota.
Remember, we shell out about 60,000 kids a year for the education system and we’ve been unable to supply them with a living.

There is a point there – especially re- the milk. Though perhaps the abolition of the milk quotas will help? I haven’t studied precisely what the effect of that will be.

Although, wasn’t there a vote last year where farmers refused to sell out Glanbia?

However beef farmers are at the mercy of the factories (who in turn are at the mercy of Tesco).

In the Simon Coveney interview he recommends that farmers should club together more. Co-ops Stage 2?

@Alan Matthews

‘The fact that the recent growth in the value of output of the agri-food sector has come from increases in prices rather than volume may help to explain the limited impact this growth has had on employment to date.’

As former CEO of the world’s leading federation of retailers and suppliers of food and drinks ( have a look at the board composition in “who we are” on the forum’s current website, I welcome the beginnings of a serious debate on this topic.

And indeed some insightful comments have already been made relating to the distorting effect of CAP since 1962 and the highly sophisticated safety and quality demands and controls of modern global and local retailers and suppliers.

In framing this debate, it might be useful not to confuse quality with safety/traceability, or competitive prices with ‘crappy food’.

It’s a complex issue but confusion won’t help.

The second ‘framing’ issue worth bearing in mind beyond the limited impact on employment in Ireland of growth in this sector is the simple fact that, with the exception of drinks ( about 15% of Irish ‘agri-food’ exports) marketed by the two leading global multinationals, in terms of identifiably “Irish” products available consistently, at scale or in meaningful market share percentages on global supermarket shelves ( or indeed in restaurants), Ireland does NOT export ”food’.

Perhaps now the debate can begin!

Not last year. Glanbia was over-leveraged outside the State at the time of Lehman and asked if the farmers would buy the domestic arm of the business. As were the rest of them.
On the beef boys, if they wanted they could come together and establish their own abattoirs. There is nothing to prevent them except themselves and their own gambling greed. But don’t err and think any moneys going into the countryside via the farmers is staying in that area. Between the tax regime forcing them into constructive debt and most everyone else sucking vast levies one way or another there is little left to do much of anything.

Hill farming is a very energy intensive business given the low potential output of high Irish blanket bog.
Especially since younger softer farmers have taken to Quads – can’t see how they could make money out if it without big subsidies.

The stocking levels of Irish Hills in the 80s & 90s were a disgrace – it extracted wealth from the landscape over time.
Hope I never see a recovery in Hill sheep farming to be honest.
Stick to the western coastal fringes lads.

The land needs time to recover from another EU funded gross misallocation of resourses.


What began as a post on the output and income prospects for primary agriculture in this coming year has broadening into a much wider discussion on agricultural policy, including the role of subsidies, the issue of market power in the food chain including supermarkets and processors, the role of regulations and standards, and land structure and mobility. None of these issues can be addressed in a short comment, but those interested will find my views on some of these matters from a European perspective on

Farming and the food industry is an important part of our economy and is making a contribution to our economic recovery. The message of the post is that its potential contribution can only be maximised if we get growth in the volume of output which in turn requires more emphasis on innovation, greater control of input costs and more attention to structural issues such as land mobility and the functioning of the food supply chain.

The paper does not calculate GNP multipliers explicitly. Although I too would expect greater differences in GNP compared to GDP multipliers it is interesting that the differences in the household income multipliers are not that big either.

@ Alan M: Note your comment. I agree that short blog commentaries are somewhat unsuitable, yet the issues raised bear directly on the proper functioning of our civic society. Food is sorta important like that.

Proximate cause of civil unrest is failure of many families to access an adequate daily food supply. Low production is a minor factor. Ditto adverse weather conditions. Principle causes: inadequate income, poor transport, storage, distribution of food and outright administrative incompetence and political corruption. Civil unrest just aggravates the pre-existing situation.

Anyhow, back to subsidies: aka., looted booty from taxpayers.

These have to be halted. I am well aware of the consequences, but some taxpayers are having “Come to Jesus” moments about this. The legislators are not best pleased. These economic morons are so addicted to spending other peoples money, that nothing short of a bad energy shock is likely to get them to pay attention. And, they just appear to have engineered one.

Coveney was on RTE 1 yesterday. Not very enlightning, and particularly dopey about ‘sustainable farming’. The last time humankind did sustainable farming (on a largish scale) was … … some several millenia ago!

Sustainability is a very misused term. It actually means (in economic terms, inc. agri) that your annual aggregate output next year will be LESS than this year. Less! Not more, not the same, but less! And so on each year, until you achieve about a 66% level of the actual carrying capacity of the land you are farming on. That’s sustainability. And, no one, but no one, wants to go there. For very obvious reasons.

Land is not some virtual concept. Solis are non-inert, highly complex chemical matrixes, supported by a robust physical microstructure. Plants extract vital nutrients from soils. These have to be replaced. Natural replacement can take up to 20 years – but us clever humans can accelerate this process. We synthesise inorganic chemicals – using, you guessed it – fossil fuels and spread like mad. This works a treat – massive productivity, but the soils become ‘tired’ and must be ‘rested’: salinity.

The microstructure of soil is damaged by repeated mechanical workings. Once this microstructure is broken down; that’s it. Soil is infertile – no matter how much inorganics you spread. And to add insult to injury, you may also cause irrepairable damage to your freshwater acquifers, and cause deathly pollution in surface water sources.

And one nasty aspect of some of the dreadfully mistaken beliefs about farming is that there is a lot of unused land available to feed us all (true) and we will be alright on the night (wrong). Lets just call this an utter failure of non-scientistific, math illiterate folk, to inform themselves about the basics physics and chemistry of food production and the vertiginous behaviour of exponential functions (population growth, energy use, debt growth – are a few of the unpleasant examples to hand).

These dopes just cannot connect the dots of reality together.

Guess we will find out about this the hard way. Reprise Easter Island and a few other civilizations.

The issue of the ‘supports’ given to Irish ‘farmers’ is shocking. Not the issue of having to ‘support’ their incomes, but the implications for food production. Some contemporary legislators foam at the mouth and rend their garments at the mention of ‘welfare’ payments to different categories of our citizens who have no incomes – or incomes that are clearly inadequate to enable them to participate in any meaningful manner in our Permagrowth economy.

Some folk just will not learn. “Its all the fault of Hurricane Charlie!” Fintan O’Toole has a nifty piece in to-day’s IT.

One view which I think has been overlooked is that Irish Agriculture has the prospect of enjoying ideal conditions for development which other industries could only dream of. That is the production of premium products while availing of the cheapest production methods while being to some extent insulated from competition. This would entail marketing the produce of Irish Grass/Forage fed animals as ”GM free” in a North America which has largely lost the potential to produce such products itself.
US Agriculture Secretary Vilsack states ” The rapid adoption of GE crops has clashed with the rapid expansion of demand for organic and other non-GE products. ”A decade ago the US Food and Drug Administration said ”guaranteeing a product to be free of GM material is virtually impossible’. Continuing release of open pollinated GM crops in the US even;“threatens the very fabric of the organic industry”. The Trade paper “Supermarket News” editorialised on the possibility of “gm free” being to this decade what fat-free or sugar-free were to previous decades. This article was prompted by the launch of “the non gmo shopping guide” for the 53% of Americans who say they would avoid GMOs if labelled” In this market, where there is much confusion, grass fed products from the island where farmers have never grown gm crops, would unambiguously represent the gm free alternative which this growing market requires.
Bell and Shelman were commissioned by Bord Bia to assess the Irish agricultural industry. They found that ”Given its lack of scale and cost disadvantages, Ireland is not going to win the commodity game”….but..”Ireland has an enviable agricultural situation that almost every other country would kill for”’… ”in the race to produce exactly the type of food that a growing number of consumers are demanding”……”natural and we can prove it”….which is required by the modern consumer
who…”rebels against “multinationals” who they think are adulterating the food we eat”
The US Authorities however are exerting pressure on the rest of the world to follow their GM lead see, ”US targets EU over GM crops” The guardian 3 Jan 2011 and pressure aimed at ourselves (Bertie) recounted by Bill Lambrecht, “World Recoils at Monsanto’s Brave New Crops,” St. Louis Post Dispatch December 27, 1998. I would fear that Ireland is not now in a strong position to deal with international pressure.
For the U.S. the Carrot and the Stick are at work. Global acceptance of GM Crops would deliver to U.S. based Companies a large measure of control over international Agriculture through their ownership of patented GM seeds, while the stick would be the scenario of human health effects of GMO’s emerging before the rest of the world finds it’s self in the position North America is now, i.e. devoid of alternatives.
The American non regulation of GM crops is based on a scientific miscalculation which also can be seen in the Forfas ”Technology foresight report- health and life sciences pannel” where they ”draw heavily on the experiences of the United States” it states ”There are over 100,000 genes in the human body. The Human Genome Project aims to fully sequence all of these by the early years of the next century”.
What the Human Genome Project actually found and the significance of these findings is dealt with by Denise Caruso in the New York Times July 1 2007. and in ”Biotech Hope and Hype: The Genetics Revolution has Failed to Deliver” Macleans, September 30, 2002
‘Teagasc in their 2008 ‘Towards 2030’ report which will ”set the agenda for the sector’s development over the coming years offers, ”one example of what farming could look like in 2030” introducing a GM Crop which produces insulin.The above mentioned Forfas report also envisages a GM future warning that if ”Ireland fails to establish the Irish National Biotechnology Investment Programme”…..” Irish agriculture will not participate significantly in the production of novel products from
plants (e.g. plastics, pharmaceuticals, hormones, vaccines,….”
Teagasc have developed a GM potato and presented to farmers figures which suggest a 198 euro per hectare economic advantage in growing this new crop. This is misleading as the Teagasc study on which these claims are based unrealistically assume; ”that GM products would be sold at the same price as conventional products.” (this is not mentioned in the presentation to farmers)
Why are some on the production side of Irish Ag. pulling in a different direction than those in the marketing division (Bord Bia)?

One reason why I think it is important for people who have been following the banking story to examine what has happened with GMO’s is because they may quickly recognise similar forces and at work; Regulatory Capture and Revolving Doors, A Minister with confidence in the regulator ” If it passes all the EU’s food safety tests, I have no difficulty with it.” (the eu don’t do safety tests) . Europeans relieving U.S.Companies of their problems by buying the potentially toxic products from their unregulated system which somehow have undeservedly gained a clean bill of health from the ‘rating agency’. And not least a willingness to accept risk on behalf of the next generation which is unacceptable to the industry which generated the risk;”Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.” While the FDA avoid responsibility by relying on the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic act section 402(a)(1), which places a legal duty on developers to ensure that the foods they market to consumers are safe. The risk is described by Robert Hartwig, chief economist for the Insurance Information Institute: “Genetically engineered foods are among the riskiest of all possible insurance exposures that we have today”

@Nick Cullen

“Genetically engineered foods are among the riskiest of all possible insurance exposures that we have today”

That’s one scary statement.

There has been much talk about rising food prices. Strangely little consideration is given to escalating costs. The costs issue is also a major issue in UK agriculture, which is experiencing a surge in prices.
Energy costs/feed costs/insurance costs are surging in Western Europe.
It is vital to maintain the CAP to ensure quality food with proper traceability. Cheap imported food lacing traceability can be a health risk. Europe needs food independence as much as possible. Incidentally some sectors such as poultry receive no subsidies and survive on very thin margins.
China has major problems because of water scarcities and will continue to import more and more food as its middle classes become more affluent. It holds out huge prospects for Ireland.
Our food is our green gold. Lets develop the food processing industry to its greatest potential. Multinationals come and go but agriculture remains.

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