Leading the way in horticulture

The View from TeagascTeagasc,the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority, recently launched its ‘Road Maps to Better Farming 2020’, which included its pathway for the horticulture sector. Here are the main highlights:

Market and policy issues

The horticultural sector contributes close on €300m to agricultural output at farm gate level and provides more than 5,000 jobs in the production sector and a further 9,000 in the amenity services sector, according to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

There is considerable potential for the development of horticulture at both production and value-added levels. Fruit and vegetables play a very important role in addressing the nation’s health problems and horticultural pursuits contribute to a positive lifestyle.

1. The horticultural sector will exploit the development potential of the mushrooms, fruit/vegetable and nursery stock/cut foliage sectors as follows:
a. support innovation that adds value in the food sector, taking advantage of the positive healthy profile associated with fruit and vegetables;
b. support innovation that creates diversity in the nursery stock/cut foliage sector; and,
c. use producer organisations to drive investment and consolidate market developments where possible.

2. The Teagasc horticultural programme will focus on:
a. profit from productivity;
b. innovation for added value;
c. energy efficiency;
d. producer organisations; and,
e. regulatory compliance issues.

Shape and size of sector in 2020

  • Overall increase in farm gate output to €350m.
  • Continuation of consolidation, specialisation and capitalisation of enterprises.
  • Anticipated 600-700 sustainable commercial production units.

Technical performance

  • Mushrooms: target of 380kg/tonne using phase three compost, and increased use of system-built units.
  • Develop and promote energy-efficient systems.
  • Develop and promote disease control strategies with reduced pesticide inputs.
  • Cut foliage: development of production protocols for exisiting and new varieties of cut foliage in response to market trends. Expansion of the sector in area terms from 200ha to 400ha leading to increase in value terms from €3.75m to €10m.
  • Vegetables: crop management and protocols will need to change, with reduced pesticides and new regulations. Innovation in crops and vegetable products is required.
  • Fruit: adoption of protocols to improve quality in supply of a range of crops over maximum season. Post-harvest techniques to extend shelf life and even out supply. Increase strawberry tray plant propagation to supply 80 per cent of the Irish market and increase exports to the UK.
  • Full implementation of integrated pest management (IPM) across the sector.
  • Continued season extension and management protocols for new crops.
  • Capitalise on the healthy image of horticultural produce and lifestyle pursuits.

Environmental and land use implications

  • The sector will continue to be largely located east of a line from Monaghan to Limerick.
  • Spent mushroom compost utilisation is the only significant waste problem.
  • Water restrictions may be a future issue.
  • IPM adoption and restricted pesticide availability will reduce environmental loading.

Research and advisory actions

  • Continue to revitalise Teagasc’s capacity in horticultural research, particularly in the main and emerging enterprises and the basic services of pathology, entomology and post-harvest technologies.
  • Update Teagasc’s research and training facilities to commercial standards: – collaborate with food and biotech research personnel to innovate and add value to horticultural produce.
  • Strengthen the provision of a fully integrated research, advisory and education programme.

According to Jim O’Mahony of Teagasc, the need for ongoing industry modernisation remains a key priority to attain the efficiencies required in a competitive global horticultural industry. “New EU regulations concerning pesticides were enacted in November 2009. These, together with the volumes of existing regulations including the Nitrates Directive, hygiene regulations and so on, will have major implications for all growers, as well as the input and output service industries.

“The goal of Teagasc will be to provide the industry and growers with the knowledge and skills to implement these regulations, while enabling growers and the industry to deliver increased profit from productivity.”

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