Covid-19 has been ranked as the highest risk facing the agri-food sector, according to Bord Bia's new Risk Readiness Radar, which it says is its most robust risk assessment of the Irish food and drink sector ever undertaken. 

The Bord Bia report looks at the high level risks facing the industry across six key areas.

These include Covid-19, Brexit, challenges to market diversification, sustainability pressures, consumer insights and innovation, and talent management. 

A total of 128 Irish food, drink and horticulture companies, representing 51% of total exports, took part in the survey, which was conducted over a four week period in March and April this year. 

91% of respondents scored the trade implications of Covid-19 as either a high or a very high priority. 

Other Covid-related concerns such as staffing issues, significant decrease in foodservice demand, disruption to supply chains, staffing levels or maintaining production were also ranked as being of high significance, with over 50% of respondents ranking these risks as being of high or very high significance.

Export market diversification was ranked the second biggest focus area for the industry as a whole, with 71% of respondents actively seeking to expand into new markets in response to Brexit. 

However, over 91% of respondents said they had made progress in relation to their Brexit preparedness over the past 12 months, the research noted.

Shane Hamill, Strategic Projects Manager at Bord Bia, said that the Irish food, drink and horticulture industry has had to withstand many shocks over the years. 

Mr Hamill said that while a disruptive event is always an immense challenge for any business, dealing with the consequences inevitably helps businesses to build resilience and be better prepared for the next event. 

"As a result of Brexit preparations, valuable skills in risk management have been learned by the agri-food sector and there is evidence that the industry has been better able to manage the impact of Covid-19 because of the actions it had taken over the past three years," he added.

Bord Bia's Readiness Radar builds on the previous work of the Brexit Barometer, which has been assessing industry preparedness for the UK's departure from the EU since 2017.  

He said the insight provided by the Readiness Radar survey will influence Bord Bia's supports and programmes as it works with industry to navigate the period ahead.

Bord Bia's chief executive Tara McCarthy said the estimated value of food, drink and horticulture exports from Ireland for 2019 was €13 billion, capping a decade of extraordinary growth where the value of Irish food and drink exports increased by 67%. 

Tara McCarthy said the current scenario posed by Covid-19 and Brexit has created a greater sense of urgency for overcoming any obstacles presented by market diversification. 

She said the organisation is reimagining how it can best respond and help position our clients for growth post Covid. 

"Our focus has shifted to providing reassurance to our global customers and consumers, with renewed urgency and vigour, that Irish food and drink is high quality and safety standard, distinctive and committed to sustainable production," the Bord Bia CEO said. 

"Looking at the longer term future, we will provide our clients with world-class consumer insight, tailored supports and customer facing opportunities through our network of overseas offices. In these unprecedented and chaotic times, we are entirely focused on delivering the very best for our clients," she added.