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Veteran Contributor

After tough economic times in Ireland farmers are leading recovery

As economy mends, grass is greener for Irish farmers
Profits soar as demand grows for beef, dairy
Stephen Starr    Special for USA TODAY

   LIMERICK, IRELAND Over the past two years, Darragh Vaughan, 34, from Kilbane, County Clare, has grown his cattle herd from scratch to nearly 400 after he took up farming in 2011.    “I have been constantly expanding, and the plan is to grow the herd further next year,” he said.    Vaughan is one of many Irish residents returning to the land in search of opportunities after Ireland’s economy nearly collapsed. Like many, his endeavor has turned into a success.    The economic fallout from an overheated housing market caused unemployment to rocket from 4% to 15%, turned banks insolvent and forced the country to take on a deeply unpopular $115 billion bailout from international creditors. But one industry prospered: farming.    “It’s seen as a very exciting sector,” Ireland’s minister of agriculture, Simon Coveney, told USA TODAY. “When a country goes through a very dramatic transformation, people look at industries they can believe in.”    Coveney says that since taking up his post more than two years ago, Ireland’s agriculture export value has risen from $11 billion to almost $14 billion.    Beef farmers saw incomes soar 30% this year while dairy farmer profits rose 15% on the back of strong international demand. Ireland’s agrifood sector employs almost 10% of the country’s workforce.    Besides domestic demand, international markets are helping to fuel the sector’s growth.    This month, Japan announced the end to a 13-year embargo on Irish beef, worth $20 million a year to Irish farmers. In August, Libya opened its doors to Irish  cattle and sheep after a 17-year embargo.    And China’s booming middle class has for the first time begun eating dairy products. Until about 10 years ago, most Chinese could not afford dairy products, a staple in the West that was virtually absent from traditional East Asian diets. The rise of the middle class — including working and high-earning mothers — spurred a demand for such products, considered exotic and a mark of status.    “There’s also been a growing demand for the type of foods Ireland produces: protein foods, dairy product and meat on the back of a grass-based system,” Coveney said.    Coveney said that during the “Celtic Tiger” period of economic growth from 1995 to 2008, many farmers’ sons looked for work in the better-paying construction industry. After the sector collapsed in 2009, many turned back to agriculture.    These days, university agrifood courses cannot keep up with demand from young applicants. Nine out of 10 farmers surveyed in a recent Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association poll said they would still choose farming as a career if they had to start over again.    More growth is likely on the way: Coveney said dairy farmers are looking at expansion because in April 2015 the European Union-wide dairy quota regime, which regulates how much a bloc country can produce and what price is received, is set to be abolished.

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Re: After tough economic times in Ireland farmers are leading recovery

As more or less stated; as people prosper they want better lives (well, even if they aren't prospering).  More and more people are wanting more meat in their diets (I'm surprised how little meat some people are used to eating).  There is always a base market for food.  Grains are easily stored/transported so prices are more global.  Meat tends to be more local.  US seems to have a big market for organic / non-gmo foods.

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