Issues with attracting migrant labour due to the Covid-19 pandemic could result in "huge challenges" for Irish fruit and vegetable growers, according to the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA).
Paul Brophy, IFA chairman of horticulture and head of Brophy Produce, which grows broccoli in Naas, said farmers would face considerable challenges in growing fruit and vegetables if the pandemic hadn't cleared by June. He said he had heard of some migrants choosing not to leave their countries due to the virus, which was leading to some farmers questioning whether to plant seeds.
Brophy believes issues facing the sector, which typically attracts up to 2,000 workers each year, could immediately affect soft fruit growers, who start picking berries soon.
A lack of migrant labour arriving could hit stocks of some affected growers' produce. Other seasonal growers don't start until June.
Flight cancellations have disrupted the routes taken by migrant labour.
David Keeling, chief executive of Keelings Retail, an Irish fruit and vegetable grower, wholesaler and brand, said he is considering chartering flights to ferry workers here as a back-up plan should routes be cancelled in the future.
"We are open to anything," he said. "At the moment there are still clear flights to the UK and from the UK to Ireland. That's the first choice.
"In terms of chartering flights and those different things that would be a back-up plan if it became necessary.
"We basically listed the options. Number one is the normal routine. If that doesn't work, then we don't think it is impossible to charter flights, because people are doing it from the UK."
Keeling, who said his business had made progress in attracting overseas workers, believes the European Commission helped the industry by designating horticulture as critical. He admitted, though, that the sector was in uncertain times.
"For us to predict how the next two months will go, which is when we will find out a lot in terms of staff, we are more uncertain than we have ever been," he said.
"We hope there will be support in terms of ensuring critical workers are there to provide food for the nation. We are hopeful, but not certain."
Over the past two weeks, Keelings has advertised for roles at its farm aimed at people in Ireland. Keeling said it was still early days but admitted interest had been reasonably limited.
"It could be a good news story," he said, "if people come and help keep the nation fed."
Sunday Indo Business