I am delighted to introduce the Leinster Express supplement on the 82nd annual National Ploughing Championships. The event returns to County Laois for the fifth time since the championships were first held here back in 1943.
The Ploughing has become one of Europe’s largest outdoor exhibitions and is set to attract over 150,000 visitors. Farmers across the country view it as an important fixture in the farming calendar, to do business or to meet up with old friends. The huge range of attractions on offer means that a large amount of urban visitors attend also, giving them the opportunity to learn about the range of expertise and high tech products that form our vibrant Agrifood sector.
Laois has some of the most productive and fertile land in the country. The soils around Ratherniska are noted for their high productive capacity and the Carter family are renowned for their skills in managing the land over many generations. Much credit is due to David Carter, and also the neighbouring farmers who made available the 700 acres needed for the event.
Each year the Ploughing Championships gets bigger and better and it deservingly earns its title as the premier event in the rural calendar. There is an opportunity to meet experts in a range of areas who can advise on a variety of farming issues. An extensive array of trade, livestock, seminars and demonstrations are all contained in a packed programme.
Of course, at the heart of this great event is the ploughing and the friendly rivalry between competitors for the achievement of excellence on the competition field. This year, I understand, there are over 330 competitors taking part over the 3 days. Basic cultivation skills like ploughing are essential to proper soil management and crop establishment.
My Department continues to work closely with all stakeholders to coordinate and plan the future of Irish Agriculture through the Food Harvest 2020 strategy. The worldwide demand for food is rising, and Irish products are renowned abroad for their quality and reliability. The Agrifood industry provides a substantial base for employment, growth and development especially in rural areas. Agriculture can help turn our economy around and play a significant part in economic recovery.
There is an immense opportunity to increase the value of exports from the sector. Bord Bia estimates that these exports reached a record €9 billion in 2012 and the Food Harvest target is to grow this figure to €12 billion by 2020, which means continued sustained growth in the future is still required.
An effective CAP is necessary to ensure the sustainability of our family farm structure. Recent changes amount to a useful and progressive reform of the CAP making it fit for purpose. They are consistent with the smart, green, growth objectives of Food Harvest 2020 and provide farmers and the agri-food sector with policy certainty for the years to come. There are many other decisions we need to take about how we will implement the Single Payment in Ireland. In this regard, I launched a public consultation process last month so that I could have the views of stakeholders that will help build consensus on how key issues are addressed.
The successful hosting of the Ploughing Championships each year is down to Anna May McHugh and her committed team. I wish the team every success in their mammoth task. In conclusion I wish all competitors and visitors a warm welcome and look forward to meeting you in the O’Moore County.