A high proportion of graduates working in the agri-food industry are sceptical about the dairy processing sector's ability to respond to the challenge of increasing national milk output by 50% by 2020.

The survey carried out by the Agricultural Science Association (ASA) shows that just one-third of respondents have confidence in the processing sector's ability to process and market an additional 50% in milk output.

Increasing milk output is one of the key targets in the recently published Food Harvest 2020 report.

While half of respondents regard the report as 'good' and feel it sets out a clear agenda for the dairy and overall agri-food sector, they are not convinced that the ambitious targets are achievable.

ASA President Frank O'Mara said the results of the survey must be viewed against the background of little or no growth in agricultural output over the past 30 years due to quota restrictions and the EU policy environment, as well as the current severe contraction in the overall Irish economy.

Mr O'Mara said the targets are ambitious and can be achieved.

A co-ordinated implementation plan for the Food Harvest 2020 report must now be put in place involving producers, processors, marketers and policymakers.

The survey was conducted over the past week among ASA members who are involved in all aspects of the agri-food sector.