As the country slowly starts to open up, it is interesting to note that March was the busiest month on record in terms of grocery sales in Ireland, with over €2.8 billion sales in the previous 12 weeks.
When the restrictions began, we witnessed bulk-buying, but as routines have settled this has eased.
Despite the increase in grocery sales, global food prices fell as a result of the pandemic and will leave many farmers with concerns about prices in the coming months.
Already meat processors are killing fewer animals as the impact from food service closures is felt everywhere.
The retail data from Kantar shows that fresh produce sales are up by 16pc. There has been a noticeable rush to buy fruit and vegetables.
The pandemic has seen a surge in demand for organic food globally, which is putting pressure on the supply chains in some networks.
Online retailers are witnessing huge increases in sales.
In general, the approach on farms has been to keep milking, sowing, planting and harvesting.
Covid-19 has imposed severe changes to how we live our lives for now, and it will surely have far-reaching consequences into the future.
Organic farmers around the country are reporting mixed impacts from Covid-19.
The closure of restaurants and food service outlets has reduced the numbers of livestock killed, with increased retail sales only partially compensating.
In the horticulture sector, by contrast, there has been an explosion in sales.
The organic sector has a higher proportion of farmers who sell directly to the consumer, with approximately 8pc of Irish Organic Association (IOA) members supplying retail markets in this way.
With the closure of farmers’ markets, producers have had to evolve their business model, with many going online to sell direct for the first time.
Social media has been important for small food producers, allowing them to get in touch with their customer base and attract new business.
Here some IOA members report on how Covid-19 has impacted on their farm business:
Green Earth Organics
“The demand for fresh Irish organic produce delivered to people’s homes has increased exponentially. Since Covid-19 has struck it has made Christmas look like a relatively calm affair,” says owner Kenneth Keavey.
“The level of business has doubled overnight and we have had to turn off our web ordering service and only open it at allotted times to cope with the demand.
“In the last three weeks we have doubled our packing workforce… and increased capacity.
“We have had to split our workforce into two shifts to enact social distancing and to keep everybody safe. Sourcing of everything from seeds to our boxes has become more difficult.
“It is not business as normal and maybe there is a very strong case to be made for not going back to business as usual.”
Beechlawn Organic Farm
“Our business has been turned upside down,” says Padraig Fahy.
“We have lost customers in restaurants and food service. However, our box sales and home delivery service has quadrupled.
Butler’s Organic Eggs
“We can’t keep the shelves stocked, there is such a demand,” says Paula Butler. “We were panicked a little initially.
“We did organise a rota for staff to work at different times to ensure we were covered if one of us needed to self-isolate. We are taking all the precautions as advised by the HSE.
“The problem for us is our orders have doubled but our happy hens are laying the same amount of eggs! What is most important for us is the welfare of our birds and to ensure they are stress-free and happy.”
(Chicken, pigs, vegetables)
“Demand has absolutely soared as people are more conscious of eating healthy and they want to eat organic food,” says Mary Regan.
“We also sell our organic chickens to customers which is great as restaurants previously made up 20pc of the business, so we have managed to keep fully operational.
“We are getting new customers all the time between our honesty shop and the vegetable round. I really hope people will keep supporting small-scale producers when this is all over.”
Ring Organic Chickens
“We lost 80pc of our business overnight when restaurants closed so we were forced to adapt and seek out new markets, and the home delivery service is booming,” says Sean Ring.
“The wonderful thing about selling direct to the consumer is that you are paid immediately and that is great for small family farm businesses like this one.
“Social media has really helped but you have to keep on it which is time-consuming when you are a primary producer.
Word of mouth is also brilliant to sell premium products like organic chicken.”
(Beef and tillage)
“To date things have been relatively fine,” says Tom. “Animals arranged for slaughtering were taken by the factory, which enabled my operations to continue as planned.
“Given the reduction in outlets for beef it looks like it might be another difficult year for all beef farmers.
“On a more positive note, it has been a pleasure to be out and about on the farm in challenging times like this where a lot of people are under severe pressure.”
“We are still supplying our salads into local supermarkets, but our restaurant and farmers’ market has closed,” says Annie Dalton.
“Essentially, we had four days to get a website and vegetable delivery service up and running, which is a baptism of fire. It is certainly different than going to a market as you have to organise individual orders and then plan your route.
“We have also partnered with Cashel Farmhouse Cheese to supply salads for their food boxes. So far it is all going fine.”
“We lost 40-50pc of business overnight — the restaurant trade,” says Kylie Magner. “However, we picked up sales locally. With people staying at home more eggs are in demand, especially for baking.
“The IOA were really helpful as they circulated a list of members selling food directly to the public.
“As we already had an established website, we became a pick-up point for our local farmers’ market.
“People pay online, produce is dropped here from other farms, baskets made and then customers pick them up on Fridays. It has all worked out really well.”
“Overnight I lost my restaurant customer base, then two days later people started ordering flour for home baking and it has really taken off, to the point that I am finding it difficult to keep up with demand,” says James Kelly.
“As I grow and mill on-site, it is an artisan product, so it takes time. I already had an established website, making selling online an option.
“I am under no illusion that the market will most likely revert back once this is all over but hopefully customers will still want to buy my flour, as it would be great to see a rebirth of craft milling as people renew their interest and respect for quality Irish ingredients.”
Grace Maher is development officer with the Irish Organic Association, email@example.com