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Horticulture and cereals exports increased by 8% in 2020, despite economic disruption

94% of horticulture exports destined for the UK in 2020, Bord Bia report finds



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14 January 2021

The value of exports of Irish food, drink and horticulture were held to a 2% decline in 2020, valued at €13 billion. The marginal decline from €13.2 billion in 2019 came during a period of unprecedented change and challenge that saw the largest disruption to normal market operation, globally, since the end of World War II. This is according to the latest figures from the annual Bord Bia Export Performance and Prospects report 2020/2021.

Horticulture and cereals exports increased by 8% to €221 million in 2020. The primary constituents of this export mix are mushrooms, primary cereals and amenity horticulture. The horticulture category is dependent on the UK as a destination market as 94% of horticulture exports were destined for that market in 2020, the same proportion as in 2019.

The report found that mushroom exports, which were valued at €115 million in 2020, increased in value by 14% year-on-year. This was despite a 4% reduction in the total volume of exports. It noted that the mushroom industry will continue to face challenges arising from the UK exit from the EU, and added that Bord Bia is assisting the industry with trade initiatives to build market relationships further.

Amenity horticulture exports were worth €17.5 million in 2020, down from €18.5 million in 2019. There were several forces behind this decline, according to Bord Bia. The closure of garden centres in the UK and across Ireland affected growers significantly. Christmas tree sales were down compared to 2019 and are likely to fall further in 2021. Bulb and daffodil exports were also down due to disruption in the Dutch auctions.

In 2020, hardy nursery stock accounted for €7.3 million worth of exports, a decrease of €1 million from 2019. While the closure of UK garden centres had an impact, Irish producers were able to make up for losses in local sales.

According to Bord Bia’s data, there were 26 nursery stock producers exporting to Northern Ireland and Britain in 2020. There were also five bulb/cut flower exporters, who are exporting stock to Northern Ireland, Britain and continental Europe. Challenges remain in exporting to the UK due to the exchange rate and have resulted in some UK buyers seeking to source more stock from the UK than before.

However, it added that there are still opportunities for Irish grower in the UK. The disease-free status of Irish stock, for example, and the proximity to the UK market remain advantages for Ireland.

“Behind the remarkable export performance of our food and drink sector in 2020 are seismic challenges at a strategic, category and channel level,” said Tara McCarthy, CEO, Bord Bia. “Last year was a pivotal year of learning for us all and 2021 will be even more significant in terms of how we apply these learnings to rebuild and drive growth in new and emerging markets. The success of the industry’s transition to doing business virtually – from participation at online trade fairs to the development pioneering virtual trade missions – show that we can, and we will, rise to the challenge of doing business in new and inventive ways. This resourceful approach, coupled with the sectors’ focus on geographic and customer diversification over the past decade has now paid dividends and is integral to safeguarding our exports.”

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