A new National Strategy for Horticulture to cover the years 2023 to 2027 was launched at the Bloom festival at Phoenix Park in Dublin this week which aims to increase farm gate value by 30%.

The stakeholder-led strategy is considered a major milestone for the horticulture sector. It aims to provide a vision for the sector to grow a more profitable, value-added sector, driven by innovation and sustainability and provides a roadmap for the sector to achieve this potential.

According to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), the publication of the National Strategy for Horticulture 2023-2027 aligns with, and delivers, on a specific action in Food Vision 2030 by providing a roadmap for the horticulture industry to ensure the future economic, social and environmental sustainability of this crucial sector.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue said: “I fully support Ireland’s new National Strategy for Horticulture. It charts an important way forward for this crucial industry which many citizens depend on for their livelihoods and for access to fresh local quality produce.

“I recognise the challenges in relation to fairness and transparency in the supply chain and we must strengthen the position of growers in the marketplace.

“I want to see this sector grow and flourish in the years ahead and I am confident that it will with strong leadership and collaboration between the sector’s key players in implementing the actions in this strategy.”

Minister of State, Pippa Hackett added: “I am delighted to launch this important strategy for the sector and I thank everyone involved, in particular the Horticulture Industry Forum for their work to date. 

“However, our work is not finished and to achieve our vision will require us to work smarter, leverage relevant science and technology, value our existing growers and businesses and encourage new entrants.”

Minister Hackett called on consumers at Bloom to “recognise and value the Irish horticulture sector and to play their part by supporting fresh, locally grown produce and Irish trees and plants when it is available, be that in the supermarket, garden centre, your local grocer or on the menu in restaurants across Ireland”.

National Strategy

Eight key strategic actions have been identified in the strategy as key to addressing the challenges and opportunities for the industry and implementation of these actions will drive change and growth across all the horticulture industry’s sub sectors.

The eight key strategic actions in the strategy are:

  • Strengthen the position of the grower in the marketplace;
  • Develop a written charter between growers, consolidators and retailers, and increase consumer demand for local, in season, fresh, quality fruit, vegetables and plants;
  • Establish the framework for a permanent non-EEA seasonal workers’ scheme for the horticulture industry to ensure a reliable supply of skilled seasonal workers in the short- to medium-term while innovation and research into automation is intensified;
  • Review horticulture course availability and suitability for a modern dynamic sector, enabling the educational platforms to attract talent that will drive the horticulture sector to realise its true potential;
  • Research and development for the industry;
  • Better data and information for better insights;
  • Integrate horticulture back into the broader Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation System;
  • Support innovation and diversification.

If all the actions in this strategy are implemented, a 30% increase in farm gate value from €529 million in 2022 to €688 million by the end of 2027 is anticipated, generating more rural employment and thriving local communities.

Horticulture industry

While covering less than 2% of agricultural land, the Irish horticulture industry accounts for approximately 11% of total agri-food jobs (direct and downstream) and therefore it is a vital component of rural economies, according to the DAFM.

This industry is responsible for providing employment directly to more than 7,000 people involved in primary production and a further 11,000 people involved downstream.

The horticulture industry makes a valuable contribution to the Irish economy with a farm gate value of €529 million in 2022, of which €429 million was edible horticulture and €100 million was amenity and other non-edible products.

Although the number of growers has declined over the past 20 years, farm gate value has increased by 78% in the last decade (€297 million 2012 to €529 million 2022). Mushrooms and potatoes account for 45% of the total farm gate value, according to the department.

For edible horticulture most of what is produced in Ireland is consumed domestically, apart from mushrooms where approximately 85% are exported to the UK. Amenity growers in Ireland service both the domestic and export market.

The fresh produce retail market was valued at approximately €1.63 billion in 2022, where fruit accounted for €810 million, vegetables €593 million and potatoes €231 million.