Irish food and drink exports reached €13.5bn in 2021, a 4% increase on the previous year, according to Bord Bia. This represents about 90% of Irish production and extends to 180 countries across the world.

The Performance and Prospects 2022 report is being launched today, Wednesday, by Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue, who describes “our world-class and globally renowned food and drink sector” as “one of the brightest shining lights of our economy.”

Bord Bia CEO Tara McCarthy describes the figure as “extraordinary” and said that “within those billions and millions are businesses and farms in every county and indeed, almost every parish in the country”.


Dairy is the largest category at just over €5bn of exports to 147 markets in 2021, with the majority of exports (51%) to countries outside the UK and EU for the first time.

Cheese was the top performer, with sales up year on year by 15% to just over €1bn while butter sales came in at 997m, a 3% increase.

Strong demand from Africa and North America offset weaker demand for infant nutrition products in Asia.

Beef and sheepmeat

The value of beef exports increased by 9% in 2021 to €2.1bn despite a reduction in volume exported of 11%.

There was particularly strong demand from the EU-27 and the UK recovered after a slow start to the year caused by stockpiling of beef ahead of Brexit on 1 January 2021. The value of live cattle exports increased by 6% to €214m in 2021.

Sheepmeat was an even better performer, returning a 15% increase on export values even though the volume of product exported fell by 9%.

Tighter global and EU supplies combined with a reduction in UK exports to the EU meant particularly favourable EU export markets for Irish sheepmeat in 2021.

Pigs and poultry

It was a less positive story for Irish pigmeat exports in 2021 as, even though there was a 3% increase in volume exported to 248,000t, export value fell by 3% to €542m.

China was the main market for Irish pigmeat in 2021, with 67% of all Irish pigmeat exports going to it and other Asian markets.

The value of Irish poultry exports also fell in 2021 by 15% to €128m.

Sales to the UK were down 16% to €74m, caused by the sector’s high exposure to the food service market there. It was a similar picture at EU level - exports were down 5% at 2.2m tonnes with market access an issue with some countries.

Other categories

Horticulture and cereals returned a 14% in crease in exports to €271m. There was a particularly strong performance in the mushroom sector, with exports up 31% to €151m, while cereals exports increased in value by 9% to €61.8m. The UK takes 95% of these exports.

Elsewhere, prepared consumer foods returned a 3% increase in exports to €2.5bn, the value of drinks exports increased by 19% to €1.62bn and seafood exports increased by 6% to €485m.

Full details and analysis in this week’s print edition of the Irish Farmers Journal.