Speaking at the joint Oireachtas committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine on the challenges in the Irish fruit and vegetable sector, IFA president Tim Cullinan said it is vital that fairness is restored to the Irish horticulture sector in order for fruit and vegetable growers to survive.

“The importance of underpinning our domestic horticulture producers has never been as important, following recent shortages of certain products and the increasing emphasis on food security,” Tim Cullinan said.

“The action in the National Horticulture Strategy must be implemented; if not, empty supermarket shelves which we experienced at times this year will become the new norm,” he said.

“Many crops can be grown and produced almost 10 months of the year in Ireland, but only if retailers pay the cost of local sustainable production.

"Better supports are needed for Irish vegetable growers to avoid any more exiting the sector, leaving the country even more dependent on imports,” Tim Cullinan said.

“Fairness must be returned to what is currently a fundamentally unfair food supply chain,” he added.

The National Horticulture Strategy, launched earlier this year as a result of a recommendation of Food Vision 2030, outlines eight key strategic actions that align with IFA’s key asks for the sector. These are:

  • Strengthen the position of the grower in the marketplace.
  • Develop a charter between growers, consolidators and retailers, and increase consumer demand for local, in season and fresh quality fruit, vegetables and plants.
  • Establish the framework for a permanent non-EEA seasonal workers’ scheme to ensure a reliable supply of skilled seasonal workers, while research into automation is intensified.
  • Review horticulture course availability and suitability for a modern dynamic sector, enabling the educational platforms to attract.
  • Research and development for the industry.
  • Better data and information for better insights.
  • Integrate horticulture back into the broader Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation System.
  • Support innovation and diversification.
  • The IFA fruit and vegetable committee chair Niall McCormack said growers are taking on a number of initiatives to reduce food waste, including engaging with Food Cloud.

    IFA has engaged with Food Cloud for a number of years, encouraging growers to collaborate with this worthwhile initiative.

    “IFA believe food waste could be reduced in the area of supermarket specs on products, particularly in years where harvest conditions are challenging.

    “Over the past decade the supermarket spec of all fresh produce has increased dramatically,” he said.