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Irish growers call for additional supports amid produce shortages

Horticulture food crops, such as tomatoes, lettuce, broccoli and cucumbers, are in short supply in Irish stores due to bad weather conditions across Europe

More domestic support and fair pricing needed to keep growers in the industry

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9 March 2023 | 0

Ireland’s fruit and vegetable growers are calling for additional supports to prevent shortages of fresh fruit and vegetables on our supermarket shelves.

In recent weeks, Irish retailers have expressed concern about availability shortages  of certain fruit and vegetables with items such as tomatoes, broccoli, peppers and cucumbers proving hard to source.

Poor weather conditions in Morocco and Spain, which are some of Ireland’s chief supplier markets, have affected the volume of produce reaching Ireland. Meanwhile in the Netherlands, soaring energy costs forced greenhouse growers to reduce their output.

Irish horticulture has also been hard hit by massive input price increases. Growers have seen stark increases in energy, fertiliser, packaging, and labour costs, a report from the Teagasc Horticulture Development Department published last year found.

For producers with already tight margins, input price increases have been thoroughly felt. In some cases, this has led to growers halting production of certain lines or leaving the sector altogether.

Speaking with The Irish Examiner, glasshouse tomato grower and chairman of the Quality Green Producer Organisation, David Currid, said: “”Prices aren’t justifying year-round glasshouse growing.” He added: “We need Irish customers to support Irish produce because that’s our market.

“We need people to take the opportunity when they are in the supermarket to look at produce and ask where it comes from. As long as customers ask for Irish, we have a future, but if that reduces, we will really struggle. We are very exposed as an island nation. We can grow the best crop we can, but we are dependent on the retailers and the government through the Horticultural Emergency Payment Scheme that helped us last year.”

Last month, the Irish Farmers Association called on the government to re-introduce the Horticultural Exceptional Payment Scheme (HEPs), which was brought in last year to help alleviate financial pressures in the sector.

Flynn noted that HEPS alleviated “some pressure for certain horticultural sectors last year”, and said “this support must be put in place again this year.”

The increased costs of growing all horticulture crops, compounded by the price pressure from food buyers, means that there is no room to account for events such as weather or input cost spikes, he said: “High energy prices have meant that growers cannot afford to heat glass in our sector for early crops.

“We are tired of hearing from government that more Irish produce is required when we simply cannot afford to expand the shoulders of our season.”

Not far enough

“Energy costs are hitting growers hard,” said Fine Gael senator Regina Doherty, “and as a result of the pressures brought about by Putin’s war in Ukraine, the Horticulture Exceptional Payment Scheme (HEPS) was introduced last year as a support measure provided in the form of a once-off payment to certain growers. However, while it is a welcome step, it doesn’t go far enough.

“More needs to be done to support our horticultural growers in the sectors most at risk: commercial growers of mushrooms, field vegetables, apples and high-wire crops. I’m aware of a number of supports for producer organisations and a capital investment scheme for horticulture that is helpful to the sector, but growers are asking for additional supports in light of this current extreme pressure, which is now very evident to consumers too.”

Senator Doherty cautioned: “At this stage, it is quite literally a matter of survival.”

However, in a statement to RTÉ, the Department of Agriculture said: “HEPs was made possible by EU funds allocated to Ireland through the Exceptional State Aid Framework. The Department is engaging with the sector in relation to current challenges and will keep the situation regarding supports under review.”

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