Horticulture Council Report March 2021
The government published the new ‘Living with Covid’ document last week. It is unlikely that the food service sector will be functioning until July as detailed in the document, this will severely impact growers supplying this sector. Retail demand remains buoyant as consumers continue to cook at home with sales up 10-15%, however, sales are not as high as what was experienced during the first lockdown.
IFA has received many reports from growers that over-wintered crops particularly broccoli and cabbage has experienced significant damage due to extremely wet conditions and frost. This coupled with exceptional retail demand and high specs is a major challenge for growers. Retails must understand the effect that variable Irish weather conditions have on crops and work with growers on specified weights and specs.
There are also significant reports of reduced yields and harvesting difficulties on root crops caused by extreme weather conditions. With the added issue of labour and the impact of the pandemic, the season has become even more challenging.
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.
On a positive note the new import controls on UK produce has led to difficulties which has led to increased demand for Irish produce both here and in the north of Ireland. The strengthening in sterling has also reduced the competitiveness of UK imports. However, Brexit has also led to difficulties with seed, plant and the import of spare parts which could have serious implications for the sector.
Demand in the apple sector remains strong due to reduced suy 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.
Activity since last National Council
- IFA met with a number of retailers to discuss the upcoming season and convey growers crop losses due to weather conditions and increased input costs in relation to employment, inputs and the pandemic.
- 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.
- A meeting was held with the Minister of State with responsibility for Employment Affairs Damien English to look for a reopening of the pilot work permit scheme and to expedite the legislation in relation to a seasonal work permit scheme.
- On peat, IFA continue to lobby for growers at Irish government and European level.
- IFA Horticulture chairman Paul Brophy, addressed the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture meeting in February calling for urgent introduction of new legislation to allow horticultural peat harvesting to resume.
- IFA President Tim Cullinan again highlighted the issue with Minister Pippa Hackett at the IFA AGM in January.
- IFA have met with Bord na Mona on three occasions since December to ensure that Irish growers have supplies for as long as possible and to discuss potential future arrangements.
- IFA has nominated representatives from the nursery stock and mushroom committees to the new Peat Use in Horticulture Consultation Group.
- The Irish Hardy Nursery Stock Association (IHNSA) which is affiliated to IFA, continue to work on the Green Cities Promotions along with Bord Bia. The promotion is 80% funded from the E.U. and will help to promote the greening of public spaces using Irish grown plants.
- Following an extensive lobby campaign by the IFA organic project team, it was announced at the IFA AGM in January that Organic Farm Scheme will re-open on the 1st of March. Minister Hackett also gave a commitment at the AGM that unsuccessful applicants to the scheme in 2018, who continued to farm organically, will be prioritised in the re-opening of the scheme.
- IFA continued to engage with government to ensure that horticulture workers can continue to be allowed into Ireland in accordance with EU guidelines and that mandatory quarantine in designated hotels is not applied to these essential seasonal workers.
- IFA participated in an ENA (European Nursery Stock Association) meeting on the 21st of February. The main item discussed was the closure of garden centres across Europe and lobby campaigns to re-open these outlets.
- Given the importance of gardening to mental health and the perishable nature of plants, IFA are campaigning to get Garden centres reopened as soon as possible.
- IFA held a carrot growers meeting on the 21st of February.
- A meeting was held with Bord Bia to discuss remote audits for the SHAS and moves by some retailers to demand other QA schemes such as Global GAP.
- IFA has continued contact with both the EU Commission and COPA in relation to the impact of Covid 19 on the Horticulture sector.
- IFA made a submission to the European Commission Inception Impact Assessment on the Revision of EU Marketing Standards for Agricultural Products
- IFA participated in the Copa.Cogeca phytosanitary working party. DG SANTE updated the WP on phytosanitary issues. The revision of the Sustainable Use Directive and the Bee Guidance document in addition to specific plant protection issues in the different member states were discussed.
- Lobbying will continue regarding the new CAP particularly in relation to the increased demands for environmental actions within the operational plans for PO’s.
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 will continue to lobby for essential seasonal workers to be allowed into Ireland for the harvest period and monitor testing and quarantine measures.
- IFA will continue its lobbying campaign in relation to the peat issue and calling for an immediate meeting of the proposed new consultation group on the issue.
- The campaign on the reopening of the work permit scheme will continue.
- IFA will hold an information evening on the reopening of the Organic Farm Scheme on Thursday the 4th of March at 8.30pm.
- IFA will hold an Employment Seminar for the Horticulture sector; more information will follow on www.ifa.ie
- Bord Bia in conjunction with the IHNSA/IFA will hold a virtual plant fair in on the 9th of March. The event will be held virtually.
- 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. Netherlands and Germany have recognised this fact and allowed garden centres to remain open despite widespread restrictions.
- IFA will be lobbying to include the sectors of horticulture affected by Brexit in the Brexit Adjustment Reserve (BAR) fund announced by the EU.
|Paul Brophy Chair||Niamh Brennan Policy Executive||Patrick Farrell Senior Policy Executive|