Horticulture Council Report May 2020

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Horticulture Council Report May 2020
27 May 2020

Horticulture Council Report May 2020

Council Reports, Horticulture Reports

Market Report

The spell of favourable weather from late March has continued into May which has allowed planting progress to continue uninterrupted. Apart from Spring onions and Spring Cabbage, the marketing season for most of the outdoor vegetable crops will start in June. The salad crops, such as cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce continue to enjoy favourable growing conditions with good light levels.

The Continuation of the COVID-19 crisis has seen demand for supplies of fresh produce going to retail remain strong. Those supplying the food service sector have seen demand pick up slightly but it still remains at only 20% of normal. Meanwhile the lifting of restrictions on farmers markets this week is welcome news.

An initiative to recruit large numbers of seasonal workers for the horticultural sector in Ireland has been launched by DEASP in conjunction with DAFM, Teagasc and IFA. It is hoped that this initiative along with the recruitment of students etc. will help to supplement the limited availability of foreign seasonal workers so far this season. Notwithstanding the above, growers are incurring major extra costs due to the Covid 19 restrictions, with retailers slow to acknowledge this in the farm gate price.

The low rainfall levels have led to moisture deficits in the midlands and East of the country in particular. For instance only 12.8mm of rain was recorded for  the month of April and 5mm so far in May at Dublin airport. These figures represent  historic lows for this area. Although the dry conditions aided plantings last month, they are now having an effect on seed germination and crop establishment.

Protected Crops and Salads

The growing season is good so far this year, with excellent quality reported. For indoor crops excellent light levels are reported, however temperatures have remained quite low, especially along the east coast. Outdoor crops are struggling to germinate in some areas due to low temperatures and occasional night frosts last week.Labour shortage and sourcing seasonal labour are ongoing issues for growers in this sector which is further compounded by social isolation and distancing rules etc.The reduction in the critical mass of growers in the salad sector remains a serious issue with one of the main cucumber producers ceasing business this year.

Brassicas

Plantings are on track this year as favourable weather in late March/April has allowed growers to get on top of work.  Retail trade for all brassicas is very strong due to the restrictions in place which has resulted in more home cooking. Growing conditions up to now have been good, with moderate soil moisture deficits. However, as the dry conditions continue, moisture deficits are a major concern for growers, especially along the east-coast. Some growers have been irrigating crops since the end of April. Main crop broccoli is due to begin harvesting around mid-June. As with the other sectors, labour is a key concern for brassica growers.

Root Crops

Plantings are on track for root crops this year aided by dry conditions in March/April. Retail demand is also strong due to current Covid 19 restrictions. Growing conditons have been good to date, with adequate moisture levels and good sunshine levels. Like other horticultural commodities, moisture levels and on farm labour will be key concerns moving into the summer months.

Softfruit

The season is largely on track so far this year, with crops developing well. Volumes into the market have increased in the past week but will remain tight for another week at least. Centenary is the main variety produced by growers again this season. Staffing is the primary concern for all growers giving the current situation. Most growers will require the majority of their seasonal staff from now onwards. With roadside sales allowed since the 18th of May this should be a positive for the sector, however it remains to be seen what sales will be like with reduced traffic volumes on the roads.

Topfruit

The 2019 season is coming to a close and reports from growers indicate that overall yields for eating apples were moderate and light for cooking apples. The prospects for the 2020 season were looking good, however, recent night frost may have caused serious damage. Dry conditions so far this year have also kept disease pressure at a minimum. Retail sales of apples overall has been very strong since the lockdown peroid commenced.

Mushrooms

Like the other sectors the collapse in food service demand affected the mushroom sector earlier on but now the market has stabilised with the increse in retail demand taking most of the surplus. The package of support measures from the EU commission in relation to PO’s which allow increased flexibility around operational programmes will be of some help to the sector. The recent weakening of sterling along with uncertainly over Brexit are ongoing concerns for the sector.

Ornamental Sector

The opening of garden centres this week has been welcome news . Howver, the loss of sales at the peak time of the sesaon due to the Covid related restrictions have had a serious impact on the sector. Some of the bedding plant suppliers managed to find other aveues for sales through retail shops, service stations etc. however this did not compensate for the closure of the normal supply outlets. The cutflower producers lost up to 50% of turnover during their critical March sales period and they hope their bulb sales will be unaffected in June. 

Activity since last National Council

  • Following the controversy regarding the entry of EU seasonal workers into the country, IFA again contacted the government to ensure that horticulture workers would continue to be allowed into the Ireland in accordance with EU guidelines. As part of a media campaign IFA organised a number of TV, radio and newspaper pieces to emphasise the critical need for seasonal workers in horticulture.
  • An initiative to recruit large numbers of seasonal workers for the horticultural sector in Ireland has been launched by DEASP in conjunction with IFA, DAFM, and Teagasc. It is hoped that this initiative along with the recruitment of students etc. will help to supplement the limited availability of foreign seasonal workers so far this season.
  • Producers are incurring major extra costs associated with implementing new Health and Safety guidelines due to the pandemic. Retailers have refused to acknowledge this in the farm gate price or show any appreciation for the extra effort which is ensuring fresh produce gets to their shelves. IFA has had a number of meetings with all the main retailers on this issue.
  • IFA continued to receive a number of queries from growers around the country regarding restricted movements due to COVID-19 and how growers are affected. Any farmer/grower is permitted to travel to work/harvest etc during this time. Farmers are advised to their drivers’ licence and/or their IFA membership as proof of identification. If a farmer/grower has employees the advice is to provide them with a letter. A template letter is available on https://www.ifa.ie/COVID19/
  • The recent decision by the NPWS to disallow the shooting of wood pigeons during the months of June, July and August will be a serious issue for the field vegetable sector. IFA organised a meeting with the NPWS on the issue of the wood pigeon derogation. We have subsequently sent a submission to the NPWS on the issue with the purpose of getting the decision overturned.https://www.ifa.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Wood-Pidgeon-Derogation.pdf
  • IFA has continued its lobbying with the minister and at EU level in Brussels detailing the severe impact of the crisis on the amenity sector. The recent opening of the gardens centres is a help however the serious losses in the sector will not be recouped this season. Losses of up to 50% of turnover have been reported in the cut flower sector and direct financial support will be required if this sector is to survive.
  • IFA along with Bord Bia and other stakeholders are involved in a number of industry campaigns. ‘Celebrate Strawberry Season’ was launched this week while a number of gardening TV adverts have been created along with the ‘Bloom at Home’ campaign which will start next week. 

EU/COPA Developments

  • IFA have continued contact with both the EU Commission and COPA in relation to the impact of Covid 19 on the Horticulture sector
  • IFA was successful in getting some flexibility around the rules in the PO operational programs and this should be of some benefit to the mushroom sector.
  • IFA has lobbied in Brussels and with DAFM regarding the re authorisation of a number of vital PPP’s such as mancozeb. There is also ongoing work involving a series of meetings regarding emergency derogation on a number of products.
  • The campaign around CAP 2020 has continued particularly in relation to the proposed percentage of monies which must be spent on environmental actions under any new PO regime. 

Upcoming Events / Issues

  • IFA will continue to demand direct financial aid for the sectors most affected by the Covid 19 pandemic
  • Work will continue with Bord Bia in relation to the EU fruit and vegetable campaign. The promotion opportunity is for 80% EU funding towards a significant (all public) generic promotion of fruit and veg. The potential funding is €1m over 2 years with €100k coming from industry.
  • IFA will continue its work regarding the retention of key PPP’s
  • Meetings will continue with retailers regarding the issues arising as a result of Covid 19.
Chairman Paul Brophy
Executive Patrick Farrell
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