There is “definite concern” among Irish growers as to the availability of seasonal horticulture workers as harvest season looms.

Speaking on the Agricultural Science Association’s (ASA’s) webinar on “Agri Supply Chain amidst Covid-19”, Barbara Keatley, retail account manager of Total Produce, explained the dilemma facing growers:

“The berries have already started, but our broccoli mass production will start to ramp up in mid-June onwards and that could be a real issue.”

Keatley noted the Government’s recruitment drive for horticulture workers that is in development but highlighted that thousands of staff will be needed.

Those staff come back every year from Bulgaria, Romania, Poland; they are repeat staff and they are skilled staff in a way. A lot of the work they are doing is hard work – but it is trained work.

The manager said that it takes a good few weeks to get somebody trained up and going on what to do properly. If a large number of Irish people can be employed in the sector, that would be great, Keatley said, but stressed that it is “tough work”.

“Hopefully this will work and the recruitment drive will work, because otherwise we will have problems within a month or so, definitely.”

Commenting on how things are looking in the medium term for growers regarding supply and demand, Keatley said: “The products that are grown in closed programmes aren’t necessarily matching demand at the minute because demand has increased so much – but the product is there.

The issue will be to get the seasonal workers in to harvest the crop. It’s unknown yet really; we may wait and see. It’s just that the berries start now; they’re obviously the earlier crop.

“But all the field vegetable crops will kick off in about a month and there is definite concern around that, [regarding] what we’re going to do,” Keatley concluded.