The exclusion of soft fruit growers from the Horticulture Exceptional Aid Scheme has been labelled “inexplicable” and “unacceptable” by the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA).

The organisation welcomed the €2.8 million scheme, which was announced by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) on Monday, but added that the details of it must be revisited, as it is not supportive of all in the industry.

IFA soft fruit chairman Jimmy Kearns said that soft fruit growers are facing the same input cost increases as others in the industry, yet they have been excluded from the scheme.

“The package falls short of what is needed, given the huge cost surges,” he said.

Outlining the cost pressures facing growers, Kearns said “there has been a sharp increase in the cost of labour, packaging materials, fertiliser, energy, peat based growing media and other inputs that are essential elements of production”. He added that the situation is even more distressing for growers that use heated glass, given the rise in energy costs.

The DAFM has outlined the criteria that growers must meet to be eligible for consideration under the scheme. According to its website, applicants must be commercially growing one or more of the following:

  • Glasshouse high-wire crops (tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers);
  • Mushrooms;
  • Field vegetables;
  • Apples for the desert, culinary and processing markets.

Other criteria that must also be met includes a minimum annual turnover of €50,000 as well as the possession of an up to date registration with the DAFM as a Food Business Operator.

The support measure is set to be funded by Ireland’s allocation for exceptional adjustment aid to producers in agricultural sectors who have been impacted by the war in Ukraine.

“Producers are facing hugely significant decreases in margins which cannot be recouped by price increases alone. Growers have already cut back on production for 2022 to manage cashflow,” said Kearns.

He added that others in the supply chain also have a part to play in preventing those in the horticulture sector from going out of business. Introducing significant increases in wholesale prices which are paid back to the grower, will help to cover their rapidly rising costs, explained Kearns.

“This must involve significant increases in wholesale prices paid back to cover growers’ increased costs,” he concluded.

The payment rates under the scheme have not yet been decided as they will be dependent on the number of applicants. The closing date for applications to the scheme is June 17.