Harvest for 2023 is proving to be extremely difficult, described as one of the most difficult on record. The combination of very difficult weather conditions throughout the year, staffing shortages, market challenges, land availability and lack of growing media created a very difficult backdrop this year. Planting conditions were very difficult for growers this spring, with March recorded as the wettest on record. This was followed by a dry period in early summer with required irrigation, then to return to cold wet conditions for July and August. This led to yield reductions for many crops and low light intensity for a lot of the season made it difficult for strawberry and protected crop growers.
Such conditions this year should bring to light the value of domestic Irish production and the necessity to support Irish growers. Growers have seen unparalleled increases in key input prices. Growers have been negotiating with their consolidator or supermarket buyer for price increases over recent months with varying degrees of success.
The area of field vegetables in particular, contracted again this year by some 7% according to Teagasc. This downward trend has been evident now for some years and it is very worrying. IFA engaged with all packers and retailers in the supply chain to convey these difficulties, some small increases were achieved, however these increases come on the back of historically low prices.
The appointment of Niamh Lenehan as the National Food Regulator is welcome, and the office is expected to be in operation before the end of the year.
Labour and Work Permits
Both the cost and availability of labour remain to the fore in horticulture businesses. The increase in the Minimum Wage by €1.40/hr in the Budget will put huge financial strain on the low margin sectors. IFA made further submissions on the Seasonal work permit scheme, to have horticulture workers classified as critical work and for an extension of the General Employment Permit Scheme.
Horticulture Payment Scheme
IFA lobbied for an extension of the Horticulture Exceptional Aid Payment in 2022 to help alleviate some inflated cost of production. A fund of €2.383 million was announced under the EU Agriculture Reserve. The fact that the majority of strawberry growers and white mushroom growers were excluded is not acceptable and IFA continues to lobby the scheme to be co-funded to include all sectors.
Scheme of Investment Aid for the Development of the Commercial Horticulture Sector
IFA successfully lobbied budget for the Horticultural Investment scheme to be maintained at €10 million. The scheme is essential for the continued development and competitiveness of the Irish horticulture sector.
Activity since last National Council
- IFA met with Minister Kieran O’Donnell on the issue of commercial rates. In recent years there has been an increase in inspections on potato, tillage and horticulture premises by Local Government on behalf of the Valuation Office. Inspectors are deeming storage sheds, packing sheds, and washing bays ratable. These buildings are not ratable by virtue of constituting “Farm buildings” as defined Valuation Act 2001. If a precedent is set, then almost all agriculture buildings could be viewed as ratable, creating potentially disastrous for all agriculture sectors. Accordingly, the current exemption is not fit for purpose. The Minister agreed to review what practises are taking place in local authorities.
- IFA met with all leading retailers to discuss how the season is unfolding, the spiralling input prices and adjustment to prices to aid growers during this critical period.
- IFA addressed the Joint Oireachtas Committee last month on the topic of “Challenges in the Irish Horticulture sector with a focus on Food Waste”. More details can be found https://www.ifa.ie/farm-sectors/fairness-must-be-restored-to-irish-horticulture-sector
- IFA met with Minister Neale Richmond on the issue of work permits for the horticulture sector last month following submissions on the Seasonal Work Permit Scheme, the Occupations List and an extension of the General Employment Permit Scheme.
- IFA wrote to Minister Simon Coveney to review the qualification criteria for the Increased Cost of Business Scheme (ICOB) with a view to enabling those in the agricultural sector who have suffered the same additional costs of doing business as other sectors and who will also be impacted by the rise in the minimum wage to avail of the scheme.
- Green Cities Promotions activities continue as part of the European funded initiative. The campaign aims to promote green landscaping in urban areas and buildings in Ireland, while encouraging the use of locally-grown planting stock. The promotion is 80% funded from the E.U. with 20% coming from the industry. Growers have been sent invoices in participation of this campaign which has been well received thus far.
- The Green Cities Conference took place in the Killeshin Hotel last month. The event focused on encouraging local planners, architects and local governments to use Irish plants.
- IFA made a submission on the New Organic Strategy and members from the Organic Project Team met with DAFM officials on this last month.
- The Organic Farm Scheme is now open until December 8th, more details on https://www.ifa.ie/farm-sectors/organic-farm-scheme-re-opened-to-new-applicants/
- IFA has continued contact with both the EU Commission and COPA in relation to the impact of spiralling input costs on the Horticulture sector.
Upcoming Events / Issues
- The EU promotional campaign for Fruit and Veg is now underway. More information can be seen here https://fruitnveg.ie/. The promotion is 80% funded from the EU with the remaining contribution from growers.
- The IHNSA AGM will take place in the Killeshin Hotel on Wednesday the 22nd of November.
- An online IFA Mushroom Committee meeting will take place on Tuesday the 8th of November.