WASHINGTON, June 27, 2012 -The Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine says he is “absolutely committed to the United States-Irish relationship” and is working hard to build ties with key players.

Simon Coveney embarked on a trade mission to the United States on Monday and is attending a series of meetings with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and key influencers on agricultural matters in the Senate. Just 16 months after being appointed to the position, he intends to raise the issue of access to high quality Irish beef and sheep meat in the U.S. market, he told Agri-Pulse in an interview.

“We are on a journey as a country to grow our food sector from a food science perspective,” Coveney said. “[Ireland wants to] be the country in the world that leads the way in terms of traceability, food safety, disease control, and most importantly, in terms of sustainability and how we produce food.

“We are making the transition from being a commodity food producer of medium to low value to a high end premium food producer,” he said.

He described the average Irish farm as family-owned, sized at approximately 80 acres, and said that Irish agriculture is reliant on mixed farming, typically consisting of beef, dairy, and crop production on one farm. Placing an emphasis on the unique Irish production model, he said “all of the Irish meat and dairy product, with the exception of poultry and pigs, is produced on a grass-based system.”

“We think that our mild, wet climate gives us an edge from a competitive and sustainability point of view because we have no problems with water availability and feed volume,” he said.

“Increasing feed prices in terms of grain prices do not affect the Irish dairy or beef industry at all, so we have become more price competitive and we think that we are very sustainable to grow and expand our output, without compromising the sustainability agenda,” the minister said.

One of the goals he hopes to accomplish on his visit is to share Ireland’s agricultural story to find new markets and buyers, noting “almost 90% of the food we produce on our tiny little island has to find a home, a buyer and a consumer outside of Ireland.”

Commenting on the importance of the upcoming Common Agricultural Priorities (CAP) reforms, which are slated to be finalized next year, Coveney said he will chair the discussions amongst European Union (EU) government ministers to finalize CAP policies for the next seven years as Ireland takes over the EU presidency.

“The journey we are on in the European Union is about the sustainable intensification of food production,” he said. “We know we need to produce more food to simply feed the planet because of growing demand, particularly in the growing world.”

“But we need to do it in a way that is consistent with protecting the environment, the climate, and does not use up natural resources in an unsustainable way,” he added.

Coveney said that CAP is attempting to bring all of those protections together through financial support models similar to the U.S. farm bill. Noting that the U.S. farm bill under development in this Congress is moving away from direct supports and moving toward models around crop insurance, he said it's a good model.

“We are choosing to do things a little differently, but again it is about sustainable farming, producing more food, and trying to ensure farmers get more from the marketplace.” He said. “That is the discussion that will be ongoing in Europe for the next 11 or 12 months until the deal finally gets done.”

Coveney highlighted Ireland’s renewed commitment to sustainability, illustrated in a short video on Origin Green, calling it “a unique program which will allow Ireland to become a world leader in sustainable high quality food and drink production.”



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