After the bust, Irish look back to the land

Fri Dec 16, 2011 8:30am EST
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By Conor Humphries

DUBLIN (Reuters) - After the Celtic Tiger died, Anthony Slattery quit his job as an accountant and bought some cows.

With food and drinks exports rising by close to a billion euros a year and food firms among the best performers on Ireland's bruised stock market, agriculture beckoned as one of the few sectors to survive a devastating property collapse.

"A few years ago people thought you were insane if you went into farming," said Slattery, 25, who quit a leading international accountancy firm to spend seven days a week milking cows on his farm in the midlands. "Now there's definitely money to be made."

The government has climbed on the bandwagon, citing food and agriculture as a route back to growth and the key to extracting some value from the vast land holdings left in state hands after Dublin was forced to take over banks' risky development loans.

Experts warn expectations have become inflated, however, and with incomes in the sector highly dependent on both EU subsidies and international commodity prices, and exports skewed towards struggling European markets, it could yet suffer its own shock.


Food and agriculture struggled to attract the interest of investors during the Celtic Tiger decade to 2007 as high-tech and pharmaceutical multinationals, and later construction firms and banks, drove GDP growth of up to 7 percent per year.

With tens of millions of euros to be made filling fields with duplex apartments, banks had little time for farmers upgrading their milking equipment.   Continued...

<p>Farmer Bernie Winter drives his cattle to the low field for grazing on Clare Island, County Mayo, Ireland September 23, 2009. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton</p>