A key priority for the Irish Government is to build on UK customer confidence that Ireland is a supplier of quality, trusted and sustainably produced food from "close to home", Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue told delegates at the Oxford Farming Conference on Thursday.

In a keynote address during a session on trade at the high-profile British farming event, Minister McConalogue said that Ireland wanted to defend and increase current market share in the UK.

However, he acknowledged that Brexit has, and will, continue to make trade with Ireland’s nearest and most important market more challenging and complex.

“But bear in in mind, we have had an agricultural trading relationship with Britain and the UK since the 1600s, when thousands of cattle moved from west to east and crops moved from east to west. I cannot see why this strong and trusted relationship will not continue into the future,” he said.


During his presentation, Minister McConalogue outlined how the structure of Irish farming continues to be based on family farms, with the majority part-time, small-scale and roughly half the size of the average farm in the UK.

He said that the structure creates challenges, but overall is “unambiguously positive, both for farmers and for consumers” and creates a unique selling point for Irish agriculture.

“We don’t have heavily stocked, intensive industrial farms and we don’t have investors swooping in to purchase blocks of land. Families are started and grow up on farms before taking them over. It’s a model that I really want to protect,” he added.

Trade deals

While much of the three-day event focused on future agricultural policy and how farmers will be expected to improve biodiversity and contribute to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, many contributors expressed concerns about UK government trade deals.

Speaking on Friday morning, author of A National Food Strategy for England Henry Dimbleby said it “doesn’t make sense” to be encouraging land use change at home, while doing deals that allow others to continue to produce food in a destructive way.

Dimbleby was critical of the speed in which UK trade deals have been done with New Zealand and Australia, suggesting that the main driver was a desire by UK government ministers to be seen to be making progress post-Brexit.

“I urge the government to focus on the next deals, and get the right deals, not deals done quickly. A similar deal [as with Australia or New Zealand] with Brazil would be absolutely disastrous,” he said.

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