Horticulture sector in crisis as labour shortages bite hard

There is a demand for seasonal workers ahead of spring. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images
There is a demand for seasonal workers ahead of spring. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Ken Whelan

Labour shortages are creating a crisis in the horticulture industry, which saw output decline by 14pc last year, industry sources have warned.

Measures to tackle a shortfall of over 1,000 seasonal workers will be outlined at a Teagasc-Irish Horticulture Forum Institute conference in Newbridge Co Kildare tomorrow.

Unattractive pay rates and low profit margins in the sector are being blamed for the crisis.

This decline in output is set to worsen this year unless stimulus measures are taken by stakeholders across the sector, Stiofán Nutty of the Horticultural Industry Forum told the Farming Independent.

He said the shortfall in workers for the sector was being caused by low pay and high living costs here, combined with more attractive opportunities elsewhere.

The seasonal workers, who traditionally come from the Baltic states, Romania and Bulgaria, are finding Ireland less attractive as a workplace because the rates of pay in horticulture (€9-12 an hour) were not attractive when put against the cost of living here - especially accommodation.


Also, the incentive to Ireland for nine months of the year is becoming less urgent because the economies in their home countries are improving, and more enticing permit deals are being offered by other European states like Germany, Mr Nutty pointed out.

While the sector welcomed the decision by the Department of Agriculture to introduce work permits to Europeans coming to work in Ireland, the 500 approved this year came too late and much more would be required to get Irish horticulture back into a growth situation.

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The Horticultural Industry Forum is also stressing that the partners in the sector, including the supermarket chains, have to do more to improve margins for farmers affected.

Low margins for farmers were a major contributing factor to the economic state of Irish horticulture.

Both Teagasc and the Horticulture Programme want the Government to back a renewal programme for the sector, including moves to improve the labour supply, a designated policy on accommodation provision, an enterprise strategy involving tax incentives and grants for new entrants into the sector, and a new technology emphasis.

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