Funding needed in Budget 2021 for horticulture – IFA

At a meeting of Irish Farmers’ Association’s (IFA) Horticulture Committee with Minister of State for land use and biodiversity Pippa Hackett, IFA President Tim Cullinan called on the government to increase support to develop the horticulture sector.

The IFA said the sector is under-resourced in relation to investment, research and advisory services.

Cullinan said: “This must start in next week’s budget, where the funding for the Scheme of Investment Aid for the Development of the Commercial Horticulture sector must increase to €10 million.

The budget must also provide adequate funding for the National Food Ombudsman, in order to tackle unfair trading practices at retail level such as unsustainable discounting, delayed payments and tendering of fresh produce.

“A ‘no-deal’ Brexit will have a major impact on the mushroom and nursery stock sectors. These sectors must be included in any contingency funds provided at EU and government level in the event of a negative outcome,” Cullinan said.

IFA Horticulture chairman Paul Brophy said: “There is major potential for the sector to expand in view of the current trends in eating habits and the emphasis on local, sustainable production.

Current efforts to develop the apple sector are a prime example of an initiative which should be supported and replicated.

In relation to the retail environment, the horticulture chairman told the minister that the market was effectively ‘broken’.

“Primary producers are now operating in a market where retailers are refusing to acknowledge the increased costs of production,” Brophy added.

He emphasised that the minister must now intervene in the interest of Ireland’s food security and the continuation of local production.

Paul Brophy added that issues in relation to peat extraction for horticulture need to be resolved; otherwise Ireland will be importing peat for use in the ornamental sector.

Lack of suitable labour

IFA Soft Fruit chairman Jimmy Kearns said the horticulture sector – mushroom and strawberry growers in particular – is struggling to find suitable labour from within the EEA [European Economic Area] countries.

He stressed that the pilot work permit scheme must be re-opened immediately along with the introduction of a seasonal permit scheme.

IFA Potato chairman Thomas McKeown said there were opportunities for import substitution in the seed, salad and fresh chip potato sectors.

The minister must provide targeted financial support to growers in order to develop these subsectors of the potato industry.

Other issued raised with Minister Hackett included increased funding to the Teagasc horticulture section; the impact of Covid-19; the National Strategy on Producer Organisations; plant health issues; and the reduction of excise duty on micro cider production.