Overall, it has been a difficult season for growers and once again growers have had to take the hit for increased costs associated with drought conditions, the current pandemic and unprecedented weather events. Retailers have ignored repeated ask to increase farm gate prices in order to cover these unexpected costs. At the very minimum, input costs have increased by 15% due to the expense of implementing Covid related guidelines and the inefficiencies associated with the training of new seasonal workers.
The Continuation of the COVID-19 crisis has seen demand for supplies of fresh produce going to retail remaining strong. Recent Kantar data found that total fresh produce sales have increased by 20% in the 12 weeks up to June. The food service sector is open now, albeit at a reduced capacity, which has improved demand for crops destined for this market. Growers however have suffered huge losses and continued uncertainly continues.
Following drought conditions at the start of the season, many field vegetable growers saw improved conditions with improved rainfall. However, due to excessive rainfall recently, harvesting conditions have become difficult. Harvesting of root crops in particular is difficult in some parts of the country because of poor ground conditions and some losses are reported.
Salad crops had a reasonable year with adequate light levels earlier, however, poorer light levels and humid conditions in July and August led to a reduction in yields. Recent weather events also caused damage and there were reports of outdoor salad crop losses in the Dublin region.
Having got off to a good start, the strawberry season has been hit by poor growing conditions and weather events this season. Sales and demand were reported as excellent up to mid-August, however, yields were well below average. Dull, humid, overcast weather in July and August caused difficult peaks and troughs in supply and disease pressure was high. This was further compounded by summer storms which caused structural damage and crop losses.
Apple growers have had a difficult season from the offset with frost damage early in the season and the effects of this are coming to light now. Recent storms have compounded the issue, with an average of 20% of crops on trees lost due to the last two storms.
Demand has remained strong in the mushroom sector, however, as businesses follow Covid guidelines around self-isolation etc. it has led to a shortage of labour, with many farms now struggling to harvest crops.
Activity since last National Council
- An amalgamated IFA Field Veg and Protected Crops and Soft Fruit Committee meeting was held on Tuesday the 4th of August via Microsoft teams. The main items on the agenda were: 2020 season, labour issues and PPP’s.
- IFA is in contact with all retailers regularly in relation to stocking more Irish produce and reiterating the extra costs incurred by growers because of the current pandemic and adverse weather conditions. Along with the drought, 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.
- The horticulture committees have included a number of items in the IFA Pre Budget Submission concerning the sector.
- IFA have requested a meeting with the new Ministerwith responsibility for Horticulture Pippa Hackett, in relation to issues in the sector.
- The issues relating to Peat Extraction are a major concern for the Amenity and mushroom sectors in particular and IFA have stared a lobbying campaign with relevant ministers on the issue.
- IFA continued to engage with government to ensure that horticulture workers can continue to be allowed into Ireland in accordance with EU guidelines. IFA’s media campaign continues to emphasise the critical importance for seasonal workers in horticulture.
- IFA has been in contact with the HSE in relation to issues regarding cases of Covid 19 in the sector. We have emphasised that if farms producing fresh produce are forced to close for even short periods of time, it would result in that business being closed for good.
- IFA continues to engage with Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection on the initiative to recruit seasonal workers for the horticultural sector. However as expected the initiative has failed to recruit any significant number of workers.
- IFA has contacted DBEI regarding reopening the pilot work permit scheme.
- IFA continues to engage with Bord Bia and other stakeholders in a number of industry campaigns. IFA are involved in the decision-making process of all key activations in these campaigns.
- IFA have 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 currently in operation here.
- IFA made a contribution to the EU commission objecting to the decision of Austria to ban the use of glyphosate. The commission have postponed their decision until the end of the year.
- IFA, along with Copa.Cogeca, are continuing their lobbying in Brussels regarding the reapproval and authorisation of a number of vital PPP’s.
- IFA made a submission to the EU Commission on The Combined Roadmap for the Evaluation of the EU Legislation on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides.
- The Farm to Fork Strategy element of the European Green Deal is aiming to make food systems fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly. IFA have highlighted that there is nothing fair about targets in the Green Deal, which will increase the regulatory burden on producers. The benefits outlined by the EU commission are unproven, particularly in an environment of a cheap food policy. IFA will continue to highlight these issues at EU level.
Upcoming Events / Issues
- Meetings will continue with retailers regarding the issues arising as a result of Covid 19 etc and to ensure Irish produce is stocked ahead of imports.
- IFA will be seeking a meeting with Minister Leo Varadkar regarding reopening the work permit scheme.
- IFA will be stepping up it’s lobbying campaign in relation to the peat issue and calling for an immediate meeting of the proposed new consultation group on the issue.
- The proposed EU Green Deal contains more threats than opportunities for the Irish horticulture sector. IFA will highlight these issues at government level and demand a full impact assessment of the proposals in the Deal.
- IFA will continue its work regarding the retention of key PPP’s.
- 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.
- More activities are planned in the coming weeks for ‘Celebrate Strawberry Season’. Activities will continue to take place throughout August and September for Celebrate Strawberry Season which consists of influencer collaborations and social media activity.