Fruit and veg growers need retailer support
It's been a great season for vegetable growers after five consecutive growing seasons that were poor at best. In fact, after the last two years in particular, 2013 may just have been enough to prevent many growers from giving up altogether.
While the wet years were tough for conventional veg producers, it was even tougher on organic farmers due to the increased weed burden that damp conditions bring. Soil structure also takes a pounding when trying to remove weeds in the wet.
In addition, the lack of sunshine and real heat meant high value crops such as tomatoes, peppers and strawberries had depressed yields, even crops grown under the protection of glass or polythene. Cold dark days restricted plant growth and played havoc with winter crop planting dates, resulting in very poor annual returns for most growers.
The number of veg growers continues to decline every year as they struggle to compete with cheaper imports. John Hogan is a veteran of the conventional horticulture industry, having worked as both a producer and advisor to growers.
"The cost of labour in Ireland is extremely high and has a disproportionate impact on the costs of production in fruit and veg because it is so labour intensive," John said.
"This is one of the biggest reasons that growers struggle to compete with imported produce. However, I also blame the big supermarkets who do not show any commitment to Irish growers. They want Irish produce but on their terms, which are often impossible to meet.
"If supermarkets want to be able to offer a range of Irish fruit and vegetables to their consumers, then they need to show much greater commitment to both conventional and organic Irish growers so that they can stay in business," he said.
The statistics would suggest that there is still huge scope for import substitution on the supermarket shelves with more locally grown produce. Despite the four main retailers shifting approximately €36m a year in organic fresh produce, more than 70pc is imported.