The recent level 5 lockdown saw an increase in retail sales however, it wasn’t at the level of the first lockdown in April. Unfortunately, again those depending on the food service sector have faced difficulties moving product.
At this stage of the year many of the crops such as broccoli are now finished, however, root crops and other brassicas will be harvested throughout the Winter. Due to the drought earlier in the year and unseasonal rainfall later on, the yield on many of these crops is reduced. The situation is similar over in the UK and, with the added issues of labour, this will limit the supply of many outdoor field vegetable crops over the next 6 months. Any excessive Christmas promotions by the retailers will only compound these issues.
Most of the salad crops, apart from indoor lettuce, are virtually finished although the likes of celery will be available into December. Most of the glasshouses are now cleaned down ready for planting next year’s crop.
Overall, it continues to be a mixed season for growers. Depending on your market outlet and crops, some growers have seen extra sales, however, labour issues and the failure by retailers to acknowledge the extra costs associated with the pandemic, have negated any positives.
Demand in the apple sector remains strong due to reduced supply across the EU because of frost issues earlier in the season, particularly in the main exporting countries such as Poland.
Labour issues continue to be the biggest challenge for growers in all sectors. There are the issues associated directly with Covid on farms and also the availability of labour. Unemployment levels have risen since the arrival of Covid 19, however, none of the agricultural sectors have noticed any appreciable rise in suitable applicants for advertised positions.
IFA, in conjunction with DEASP, DAFM and Teagasc supported the development of the Help2Harvest Campaign which sought to attract local workers into the horticulture sector. While the majority of producers participated in this campaign, very few individuals from the live register took up employment in the sector.
While some sectors such as softfruit are finished picking for the year and will not face major labour problems again until next May, the mushroom sector which picks 365 days of the year is facing particular challenges. Many growers have had to reduce production such as not picking third flush in order to cope with the lack of available labour.
Activity since last National Council
- Letters have been sent to the retailers regarding the labour and Covid issues affecting the sector. The fact that some growers have left the sector while others are considering leaving the business due to the low margins was also emphasised. The retailers have also been warned against extreme discounting of fresh produce at Christmas.
- The IFA president Tim Cullinan has met a number of the retail CEO’s to discuss the issues affecting the horticulture sector and the need for significant rises in farm gate prices to keep pace with input costs.
- IFA is in contact with the retail buyers regularly in relation to stocking Irish produce and extending the season where Irish product remains available.
- A delegation from the Horticulture committees led by the IFA president, met Horticulture Minister Pippa Hackett to discuss all issues in the sector.
- Separate meetings were held with Minister Hackett and Bord Bia in relation to the organic sector.
- Following extensive lobbying by IFA the budget for the Horticulture grant scheme has been increased from €6 to €9 million. There was also €1m allocated towards the establishment of a Food Ombudsman.
- IFA has written to the Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan requesting a meeting regarding issues relating to peat extraction which is of major concern to the horticulture sector. Minister Malcolm Noonan has also been contacted in relation to IFA participating in the ‘Use of Peat in Horticulture Consultation Group’
- IFA continued to engage with government to ensure that horticulture workers can continue to be allowed into Ireland in accordance with EU guidelines. On the basis of this engagement the time for which essential workers have to self-isolate when entering the country has been reduced from 14 to 5 days. IFA’s media campaign continues to emphasise the critical importance for seasonal workers in horticulture.
- IFA has written to Minister Leo Varadkar requesting a meeting regarding reopening the Horticulture pilot work permit scheme.
- At a meeting of the Economic Migration Employer User Forum which was established as a joint initiative by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Department of Justice and Equality, the issue of reopening the Horticulture Pilot Work Scheme was raised.
- The Irish Hardy Nursery Stock Association (IHNSA) which is affiliated to IFA held it’s AGM and committee meeting.
- The Horticulture committee is currently making contributions concerning the sector to the Agri 2030 strategy group.
- IFA has continued contact with both the EU Commission and COPA in relation to the impact of Covid 19 on the Horticulture sector. There are some positive changes to the PO scheme which may be of some help to the four Producer Organisations (PO’s)currently in operation here.
- IFA, along with Copa.Cogeca, are continuing their lobbying in Brussels regarding the reapproval and authorisation of a number of vital PPP’s.
- Lobbying will continue regarding the new CAP particularly in relation to the increased demands for environmental actions within the operational plans for PO’s.
- IFA participated in the Copa.Cogeca phytosanitary working party where the Farm2Fork and Glyphosate were some of the main agenda items.
Upcoming Events / Issues
- Meetings will continue with retailers regarding the issues arising as a result of input cost increases, Covid 19 etc and to ensure Irish produce is stocked ahead of imports.
- IFA are seeking a meeting with Minister Leo Varadkar regarding reopening the work permit scheme.
- A submission will be made to DBEI on the removal of horticulture workers from the ineligible occupation list for work permits.
- IFA will be stepping up its lobbying campaign in relation to the peat issue and calling for an immediate meeting of the proposed new consultation group on the issue.
During the recent lockdown, garden centres were again forced to close. IFA will continue to campaign for the selling of plants to be considered an essential service as it contributes to positive physical and mental wellbeing particularly in the domestic setting. A number of EU countries such as the Netherlands and Germany have recognised this fact and allowed garden centres to remain open despite widespread restrictions.
Paul Brophy – Chair
Patrick Farrell – Horticulture Executive