Irish agri-business can be built up Bric by Bric
PWC’s US agri-business leader sees good times for Ireland if it can capitalise on a global middle class
Sitting in a top-floor room at PWC’s Irish headquarters on Spencer Dock, William “Bill” Coe, the firm’s US l agribusiness leader, is looking forward to spending some time in Dublin.
This is his third visit to Ireland. Most recently in 2001 he holidayed with his family on the Dingle Peninsula. Despite a harsh recession in the intervening years, the Chicago-based partner doesn’t see much change in the country.
“Actually flying over it it looks the same,” he quips, “but I haven’t been in Dublin, so it’s hard to judge.”
Indeed, this week one can draw parallels between Ireland now and 12 years ago.
Back then an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease brought the country to a standstill and the night before we meet another meat issue, albeit a less disruptive one, exploded into the media spotlight.
Coe speaks positively about the Irish beef industry but acknowledges the “horse burger” debacle will have some repercussions.
“It’s all over the news right now,” he says, pointing out that damaging the public’s trust in what they’re paying for and what they’re actually getting is difficult to undo.
He also questions producers’ claims they were unaware of the burgers’ content. “Tracing with beef is so strong right now there should be no way this can possibly happen.”
Good times ahead
But suspect burgers aside, Coe, who has 25 years international agri-business experience, sees good times ahead for Ireland if it can capitalise on an expanding global middle class.
Ireland doesn’t produce enough grain and subsistence foods to target markets for the world’s poor but it’s in a good position to cater for countries such as Brazil, Russia and China where middle class demand is high but management expertise is low.
“In Ireland you’ve got water, you’ve got natural resources, a lot of your cattle are grass-fed, you’ve got a very sustainable eco system here for the production of high quality food produce,” he says.
But what the Irish don’t seem to be aware of is their own “deep understanding of the agri-business sector and what it takes to manage farms and manage the value chain properly”.
In Russia, he continues, the government might invest in new tractors but they won’t have people to drive them; or farms will have cattle but a poor system of herd management.
“You have manufacturers which are incredibly inefficient, they do have equipment but the management processes have been neglected.”