When we think of Agriculture we automatically think of farming. In fact, the latest Census results show a 10% rise in the number of people working in farming bringing the total to 80,084. Only 6% of those with a qualification in agriculture are out of work, compared to an the overall unemployment rate of 19% nationally.
But agriculture is not just confined to farming. The sector is linked to everything from the clothes we wear (cotton jeans and t-shirts, woollen jumpers and coats, leather shoes and jackets) to the food we eat and drink - it is worth €24 billion to the national economy annually. When we go on holiday or even pursue our hobbies we often engage the services of people working in the Agriculture Sector.
Government Labour Reports forecast a continued decline in the number of people employed in traditional agriculture careers such as farming, but the wider sector offers many new career opportunities such as Food Scientist, Horse Breeder, Environmental Officer/Management, Jockey and Agricultural Research.
A key factor will be the people that work in the sector. There is an ongoing need to attract the best people to the sector and to enhance leadership and management skills in the industry.
Although the nature of some of the work in the sector can be very physical, it offers a healthy and rewarding lifestyle. As a starting point, you should consider whether you would enjoy the outdoor life and working with nature.
Sector expert Teagasc is the primary provider of further education in agriculture, food, horticulture, forestry and equine studies. Many courses incorporate management practices and use of technologies on the home farm, supervised project work and discussion groups. View courses here.
Agriculture-related businesses include: Supplying farmers - i.e. the manufacture and sales of animal feed, fertiliser, equipment, machinery and even insurance; and the Marketing of farm produce - i.e. the distribution, processing and retailing of agricultural and horticultural products to consumers. There are currently over 50,000 people employed in these areas.
There is a growth in outdoor recreation and it is creating career opportunities for people supplying professional tourist services in rural settings in activities such as horse-riding, fishing, golfing, sailing and hill-walking and accommodation. Many farmers are now opening their farms up to tourists. This form of expanded Agri-tourism has potential to offer full and part-time careers.
The economy of Ireland may be in a fragile state, but the agri-food sector has been one of the few bright spots. There continues to be 230,000 jobs linked to the sector, and new innovations through the national agri-food strategy aim to create 30,000 new jobs going forward.
Ireland is the largest supplier of food and drink to the UK and is the biggest net exporter of dairy ingredients, beef and lamb in the EU. Ireland also produces 15% of the world's infant formula.
Bord Bia report that 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, completed in late December 2011, show increased optimism among food and drink manufacturers across all categories. In total, 85% of exporters viewed the prospects for their business in 2012 as good or very good. This compares to 70% in 2010. Full Bord Bia report available here.
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 sucessfully in over 170 markets.
Food science is concerned with all technical aspects of food, beginning with harvesting or slaughtering, and ending with its cooking and consumption. It is considered one of the agricultural sciences, and is usually considered distinct from the field of nutrition.
Agri-food research has been allocated €641 million, or 11% of the total funding currently available for science, technology and innovation. Examples of the activities of food scientists include the development of new food products, design of processes to produce these foods, choice of packaging materials, shelf-life studies, sensory evaluation of the product with trained expert panels or potential consumers, as well as microbiological and chemical testing.
Food scientists at universities may study more fundamental phenomena that are directly linked to the production of particular food product and its properties. Two national research policy areas currently prioritised are Sustainable Food Production and processing, and Food for Health. New innovations such as the partnership between Kerry Group and UCD Research Department represent a major investment in food science for third level graduates.
Horticulture is the art and science of the cultivation of plants. Horticulturists work and conduct research in the fields of plant propagation and cultivation, crop production, plant breeding and genetic engineering, plant biochemistry, and plant physiology. The work particularly involves fruits, berries, nuts, vegetables, flowers, trees, shrubs, and turf. Horticulturalists work to improve crop yield, quality, nutritional value, and resistance to insects, diseases, and environmental stresses.
Amenity Horticulture includes gardening, landscaping, designing and a whole lot more. It starts with the design and construction of recreational areas. These can be parks, nature reserves, wildlife gardens, and roadside plantings, amongst other designed landscapes.
Amenity areas can be public, as with local authority parks, and roadside plantings, so important to wildlife. They can also be private, as in stately homes, apartment complexes and so on.
If you enjoy sport, remember an amenity horticulturist is likely to have designed, constructed and maintained the playing field, tennis court, running track, bowling green or golf course.
Commercial horticulture involves the growing and selling of food crops and ornamental plants. In the area of food production it is the horticulturist who faces the challenge of growing the fruit and the vegetables that we eat. The Department of Agriculture reports that growing potatoes and mushrooms are currently the two biggest areas of employment in this sector.
It is also the horticulturist who grows the flowers and pot plants used to decorate our homes and public spaces. Gardening has become a top, active leisure pursuit, and domestic gardeners are demanding new plant types and increased quality. Producing these crops is a very technical business, involving automated systems, controlled using state of the art computer technology, alongside traditional skills.
Commercial horticulture includes floristry and retail horticulture too. Working in retail horticulture outlets is a challenging option and probably more interesting and demanding than any other type of retail work - building effective, eyecatching displays, marketing plants, as well as dealing with people’s enquiries.
Horticulture includes all this and much more. Job prospects are very good in this area as Irish people become more environmentally aware and show a greater interest in their gardens, in growing their own food crops, and in the outdoor world in general.
This is the art, science, and practice of managing forests and plantations. Ireland is fortunate in that it has one of the most suitable climates in the world for growing trees. Around 10% of Irish land is in forest and it is an area that government is committed to increasing. There are over 11,000 people directly employed in forestry in Ireland, in activities such as planting, harvesting, transport and processing timber. The Government has a forestry trajectory which aims to double this figure over the next 10 years. (For more detailed information on Forestry see the 'Sector Expert' profile for Coillte on this page)
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