Funding of €5.7m has been allocated to the horticulture sector, the Minister of State with special responsibility for Horticulture, Tom Hayes has announced.

The funding has been awarded under the 2015 Scheme of Investment Aid for the Development of the Commercial Horticulture Sector and the investment will mainly take place in 2015 with some further investment in large scale projects being completed in 2016, he said.

Facilitating environmentally-friendly practices, promoting the diversification of on-farm activities and improving the quality of products in the sector are the objectives of the Scheme.

“Visiting horticultural growers around the country, I am struck by the levels of efficiency, market focus and skill employed by Irish horticultural growers across all strands of this very competitive industry.

“Given that this is a competitive grant aid scheme, the available funding has been targeted at those growers with the best potential for growth and competitiveness in line with Food Harvest 2020 recommendations,” TD Hayes said.

The Irish horticulture industry contributes over €300m per annum to the value of agricultural output at farm gate level, the Department of Agriculture said. It says in addition, there is significant further value-added and employment involved in Irish horticultural product processing, distribution and retailing.

The Department says that the grant aid approved covers all areas of the horticultural industry; field vegetables, mushrooms, protected crops, nursery crops, soft fruit/apples, cut foliage, Christmas trees, flower bulbs and bee-keeping.

It also said that the awards announced will support investments by 158 commercial producers in specialist equipment and buildings costing approximately €14m.

Investments approved under the 2015 Scheme are largely due to be completed and claimed for by 2nd October 2015; however, a small number of projects where additional time is justified have been granted an extension until 30th September 2016 to submit claims for completed approved investments, the Department said.