Rain doesn’t end problems for veg growers

Rain may have landed over the past few days, but vegetable growers will be counting the cost of recent drought conditions for a long time to come.

Over the past three months vegetable growers have been irrigating crops at every hour of the day.

Anyone that has ever seen an irrigation system will know the hard work involved, from gaining access to a water source, moving equipment and pipes, ensuring that it’s working correctly to fixing breakdowns.

When the job of irrigating is being carried out crops still need to be harvested, and without any irrigation costs over the past number of years packing and labeling has also become a bigger task and access to labour is making things difficult.

One vegetable grower told AgriLand this week that “if we only got 15-20mm of rain per month it would have been enough to keep a lot of the crops growing without irrigation, but we basically got three months of drought”.

That grower has been working all hours of the days and nights for the past 12 to 14 weeks to keep crops growing.

Recent rain

Recent rain in parts of the country and forecast rain may ease irrigation needs in the coming days, but the costs are still huge. Many farms received no rain from the day crops were planted up until last week.

The drought of 2018 was similar, but growers were better prepared this season having invested in more irrigation equipment at that time.

In the meantime, prices remain unchanged. One broccoli grower who spoke to AgriLand stated that 8-10c/head more could make a difference to the bottom line and keep people in business.

Crops are reported to be good this season, after all of the hard work that went into irrigation. However, last year’s crops were not as successful. A dry start to the season combined with club root issues has many growers still paying some of last year’s bills and this season’s drought has made things tougher.

Spiraling costs

Spiraling costs and low prices for produce have driven people out of business. There are only a small number of broccoli growers in Ireland producing to a large scale. Four growers left the business last season and only about six remain.

Irrigating crops costs in the region of €100/ac when applying an inch of water. Some crops have been irrigated with an inch of water as much as 10 times this season. Land rental is another cost on growers.

Looking at the costs, stress and low prices involved in the sector, if support is not gained from more retailers and the government more imported vegetables will be required as Irish growers go out of business. That’s hardly in keeping with sustainability.

IFA calls for increased farm-gate prices

Last week, the Irish Farmers’ Association’s (IFA’s) horticulture committee chairperson, Paul Brophy, stated that the IFA has consistently highlighted the need for increased farm-gate prices for fresh produce.

He said: “Continuing unfair trading practices among the retailers such as below-cost selling, unsustainable discounting and tendering have resulted in untenable farm-gate prices.

“Existing producer returns include no accommodation for natural yield reductions; the vagaries of the weather or input cost increases. This leaves no leeway for reinvestment in farm businesses.”

He continued on to describe how growers were already dealing with labour issues and extra costs due to Covid-19.

Growers are now at a tipping point due to the added pressure of the drought conditions.

According to the statement, the IFA is currently in the process of meeting retailers and facilitators to explain the seriousness of the situation.

It was also pointed out that some crops have already been lost to the elements and without some positive intervention from other members of the food supply chain some farms may not survive the season.