Sunday, August 8, 2010

Economics 8/8/10: Some Tullamore fun

Per report by RTE today (here), our Minister for Agriculture Brendan Smith said that Ireland's agri-food sector "is making a colossal contribution to economic recovery". The Minister was speaking at the Tullamore Show in Co Offaly.

I am impressed. Of course, agri-food sector is a relatively undefined (by CSO core national accounts statistics - it doesn't even exist) sector, so Minister's claims cannot be fully tested. You see, they belong to that great category of assertions that are non-falsifiable.

But we can take a look at Minister's direct sector of charge - Agriculture. Here are few charts based on latest data from the Quarterly National Accounts and National Income and Expenditure Annual Results for 2009.

Let us start with the Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing sector contribution to GDP:
Not exactly spectacular contributions to the national income - AFF sector delivered just 2.38% of national GDP in Q1 2010 - and that was above average performance. All in, the sector output was worth just €995mln. Not a pittance, but when one considers the massive levels of CAP-delivered financial subsidies the sector receives, I wonder what is so 'colossal' in this?

When measured in terms of constant factor costs, AFF sector has hardly performed any better. Its share of our GDP stands at a miserly 2.37% in Q1 2010, which is down on 2.39% achieved in Q1 2009. Back in Q1 2005 the same share was at a height of a 'colossal' 2.77%.

Annual value of the sector output, in constant market prices, never once exceeded €4,000mln since 2005 and has actually declined over the years from the peak of €3,953mln in 2005 to €3,555mln in 2009.

But may be Minister Smith's sector is 'colossal' in terms of its contribution to growth in our economy?
Again, data suggests that, sadly, this is not true either. In 2004-2009 the overall net value added in AFF sector has fallen by 4%. Other sectors experience growth in net value added of 2.5% over the same period. AFF has managed to collect massive load of subsidies over these years. Subsidies to all other sectors have been negligible and actually declined precipitously.

May be the AFF sector provided a relatively stronger shoulder for our floundering economy in 2008-2009? Not really -
  • Between 2007 and 2008, Net Value Added in the AFF sector shrunk by 10.4% while NVA in all of the economy declined by 3.9%;
  • Between 2008 and 2009, NVA in AFF sector has fallen by 24.4% against a drop of 8.6% in the economy-wide NVA;
  • So far in the crisis - between 2008 and 2009, Net Value Added in Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing sector has declined by 32.3% while economy-wide NVA declined by less than 12.2%.
But wait, if AFF sector is not so 'colossal' in terms of growth in income or its contribution to income, may be it is a giant in terms of capital formation (aka wealth storage)?
Look at the national accounts data. The AFF sector is barely registering on the radar as a capital investment sector. True, it does appear to be more stable in the wake of the massive wave of capital values destruction since 2007 that impacted other sectors (e.g. construction, development, finance etc). But...
As you can see from above, sector share of overall capital pie remains miserably low, with exception of the two years when our land markets went nuts - 2007 and 2008 (incorporating lags).

Overall, per latest CSO data (so grossly outdated, we only have figures for 2009 so far):
  • Net value added at basic prices in the entire sector was €1,197.5mln in 2007, €840.2mln in 2008 and a dramatic €204.2mln in 2009. In other words, once subsidies and consumption of capital are taken out, Irish Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing managed to post of collapse in the Net Value added of -76% between 2008 and 2009.
Sorry, Minister, I don't seem to find much of evidence of anything colossal going on in our AFF sector at all, apart, that is, from the subsidies it receives from the EU (€1,850mln in 2009 net of taxes paid by the sector or well in excess of the sector operating surplus of €1,612mln) and the precipitous rate of collapse in
  • Goods output (down 18.1% yoy in 2009) and
  • Operating surplus (down 30% yoy in 2009).
Of course, as I have mentioned above, the CSO nomenclature does not allow us to test the proposition of 'colossal' potential for our agri-food sector. But as far as Minister Smith's direct charge goes, we are now decades away from the days when Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing last time provided a significant, let alone 'colossal', contribution to economy or economic growth or increases in the country stock of wealth.

Which is really sad, given our natural conditions for excellent agricultural production.


Kevin Denny said...

Food. Thats the difference I suspect. The minister refers to "agri-food" so he probably has in mind the production of food as well. In the National Accounts this is presumably in manufacturing.
Because agricultural has declined in importance those who want to emphasize its importance bring food production within its ambit hence the use of "agri-food" these days.

Anonymous said...

This graph

That spike was a taxpayer funded scheme not an endogenous capital formation surge by the farmers and the spike in 2008 was the taxpayer paying for these slatted sheds because of some eu directive or other on cowsh1te.