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Bright Future for Growers Despite Weather Setback

The Irish horticulture sector remains buoyant despite unseasonable bad weather and pressure on producers from big retailers. The horticulture sector contributes almost €300 million to farm output annually, with the protected cropping sector contributing close on €80 million in farm gate value to that total.

Protected cropping refers to crops grown under either glass, or plastic for some, or all of their cropping cycles. The most common protected crops in Ireland are strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, sweet peppers and celery. Consumption of protected fruits and vegetables is increasing yearly and with consumer demand for more Irish grown product, it’s a sector with huge potential for growth.

Currently the retail fresh produce market in Ireland is valued at €1.2 billion, comprised of €519 million in vegetables, €545 million in fruit and €145 million in potatoes.
The Irish Farmer’s Association’s vegetable committee chairman Matt Foley, a tomato producer based in Rush, Co Dublin, says the last few years haven’t been easy on producers.

“We have had two bad years and effectively 12 months of rain in the past year. We have had horrendously cold weather, land that was impossible to work, crops failing, seeds not germinating and even hailstones in May,” says Foley.

Higher costs
Foley says he know of one farmer producing spring onions who had his crop destroyed by hailstones and unseasonably cold spring weather. “The hailstones damaged all the stems rendering them completely unsellable,” he says.

“Root crops have been a total disaster this winter. Cauliflowers and cabbages production suffered with the low temperatures and frost damage.

“Tomato growers and other growers of protected crops faced extremely low temperatures leading to higher costs. It was made worse by extremely poor light conditions while March was the dullest month on record.”

Foley says the poor weather prevented other crops such as pak choi and lettuce from going to seed and producing hearts properly.

“Here in Rush a few family farms have ceased trading because they were unable to cope with the continuous loss of crops. With crops like parsnips, there was a loss of 60 per cent in the field, which is totally unsustainable,” says Foley.

“We’re seeing more businesses going to the wall and its sending shockwaves to those of us who are still trying to hold on.”

Foley says the IFA is concerned about the effect of below cost selling by retailers on producers.

“Supermarkets discount certain lines of fruit and vegetables to entice people into the shop. Even if the supermarket decides to pay the grower a good price and discount the produce it still has an effect on the growers because smaller shops can’t afford to pay the grower more.

“ Prices on the shelf don’t necessarily reflect the price that’s paid to the grower. More and more growers are leaving as they can’t get good enough margins on their produce.”

Source: The Irish Times - Bright Future for Growers Despite Weather Setback