IFA President Tim Cullinan and members of the IFA Mushroom Committee met with Minister of State in the Dept of Agriculture Pippa Hackett to discuss a range of issues impacting mushroom growers.
The mushroom industry is the largest horticultural sector in Ireland. It has a farm gate value of €119million, of which approximately 85% is exported to the UK. It employs over 3,500 people. Bord Bia indicate that the UK market for mushrooms is growing steadily in recent years at about 2% per annum.
Due to a Supreme Court decision last year, there has been no harvesting of peat on bogs over 30ha, resulting in a big reduction of stocks required by the sector. The mushroom industry is very reliant on the high-grade peat as no viable alternative is available.
IFA highlighted how the ban on peat harvesting threatens the future viability of the Irish mushroom sector. IFA also raised the issue of carbon leakage by importing peat from other countries.
“We called on the Minister to introduce measures to ensure the resumption of the harvesting of horticultural peat immediately,” Tim Cullinan said.
“It’s very contradictory and hypocritical of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action to recommend the expansion of the horticulture sector to avail of opportunities for import substitution and farm diversification, while the harvesting of the native raw material is no longer possible as a result of the court decision,” he said.
The delegation also called on the Minister to introduce a measure to financially incentivise the use of Spent Mushroom Compost. Spent Mushroom Compost is a key part of the agri bio-circular economy and can help to reduce dependence and use of artificial fertilisers.
The mushroom sector is also at breaking point when it comes to labour and continues to experience severe labour shortages. “There’s a shortage of skilled, semi-skilled and manual labour for the sector. This is having a serious effect on the efficiencies of businesses and subsequent viability of the sector,” he said.
Teagasc recently conducted an Irish Mushroom Industry Labour Survey. One of the main findings of the report is 1,195 new hires are required on mushroom farms in 2021.
The horticulture sector has participated in Help2Harvest initiatives co-ordinated by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection both last year and this April 2021 which sought to attract local workers into the horticulture sector. Unfortunately, there has been little uptake of vacancies from the local workforce.
In order to alleviate the labour crisis in the horticulture sector, the re-opening of the successful pilot General Employment Permit Scheme is required.
The delegation also addressed the issues of increased costs associated with Brexit, the straw incorporation scheme and Producer Organisations.