We live in County Kilkenny and my son is considering doing a degree in agricultural science next year. Are there may jobs for agricultural science graduates in the South East region?
Over breakfast a few weeks ago, I was greeted with that predictable, annual plea from my children. “Please bring us to the National Ploughing Championships, you promised last year you would.” This is when I start to feel sorry for myself as a working mum trying to get that infernal balance right, yet part of me was intrigued and wanted to see what was going on in the world of agriculture. Why? Because thankfully once again it has become an area of renewed interest and popular career path for graduates throughout Ireland.
Ireland’s economy may be in a fragile state but the agri-food sector is definitely an increasingly shining star in our economy. According to new figures released by Bord Bia, the value of Irish food and drink exports increased by 12%, or €1 billion, in 2011 to reach an all-time high of €8.85 billion.
For the first nine months of the year, food and drink exports increased at three times the rate of total merchandise exports. The strongest performing categories were dairy (€2.6 billion), meat (€2.59 billion), prepared foods (€1.5 billion) and seafood (€420 million). As a result the sector accounted for 25% of the rise in total export revenue.
The results of the annual Bord Bia industry survey show increased optimism among food and drink manufacturers across all categories. Overall, the industry is estimated to be worth €24 billion. Ireland has designated itself and is known all over the world as “The Food Island” and in truth we are ideally placed to produce food, particularly grass-based beef and dairy products.
Almost 50,000 people are directly employed in the food and drink sector with a further 60,000 employed indirectly in all regions of the country. The manufacture of food and drink products is Ireland’s most important indigenous industry with Ireland competing successfully in over 170 markets.
The CAO has witnessed unprecedented growth (22%) in the number of students choosing agriculture programmes over the last few years. UCD’s dean of agriculture, professor Jim Phelan, noted the impact of the agriculture and food industry to the Irish economy: “I am not surprised that greater numbers of students are choosing to apply to study agriculture courses. A recent UCD/IFA study highlighted the important contribution that (the sector) makes to the Irish economy and indeed the positive outlook for Irish agriculture and food.”
Within the South East there are a number of very successful companies operating across the agri-space. This is not only confined to food production but end to end across the agri-space. This includes the supply and sale of products and services to the farming community in areas such as feed, fertilizer, consulting, retail goods to farm machinery, professional services, feeding systems, milling and distribution of raw materials and finished goods as well as waste products.
We are seeing the positive effect that this has had on small, medium and large companies across the board. As the world’s population continues to grow this is NOT a fly-by-night trend – it is here to stay.
So there are plenty of options open to graduates in the agri-space – it is just a matter of working out part of that space best suits your son’s attributes and interests.
Tanya Thomas is a recruiter covering the South East with Kilkenny- and Waterford-based Morgan McKinley. Readers can submit questions to her at JobDoctor@morganmckinley.ie.