The declining number of vegetable growers in Ireland need more support, President Michael D Higgins said in his opening address at day one of Bord Bia's Bloom festival, on Thursday.

He said that retail prices for Irish-grown vegetables were "artificial" and that Irish produce was being sold at a loss.

"We should be doing all we can to address their needs, which are unique, including in terms of how often damaging retail practices have been for these producers - produce being sold as loss leaders," he said.

The IFA swiftly issued a strong response following his speech, urging the Government to take heed of President Higgins' comments and make the upcoming legislation as "robust" as possible.

"The President is right to call this out. It diminishes the value of food in the eyes of consumers. It is destroying the horticulture sector and other sectors which are dependent on the domestic retail market," IFA president Tim Cullinan said.

He added that along with the Government, retailers should also respond to the President's comments.

"Retailers like to tell us about their corporate responsibility programmes, but the reality is they use artificially-priced food as a loss leader to draw in footfall without consideration of the consequences,” Cullinan said.

Last week, the Irish Farmers Journal reported that Irish fruit and vegetable land area was down significantly.

Our tillage specialist Siobhán Walsh detailed that the area declined by 12%, or approximately 880ha, according to provisional figures released by the Department of Agriculture following the closing date for 2022 Basic Payment Scheme applications.