President of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) Joe Healy was speaking the topic on RTE Radio 1’s Morning Ireland on December 18, explaining why the IFA felt compelled to protest outside a Marks & Spencers (M&S) store last week.
“It’s about the issue of retailers selling vegetable packs for heavily discounted prices well south of the cost of production, which invariably comes back to bite the farmer. I think that idea of fresh Irish produce is what’s important to a lot of customers and while they say price comes into it, I don’t think anyone expects to get carrots or potatoes for €0.20 per kg."
“Our action last week in Marks & Spencers was just highlighting the importance of farmers’ livelihoods; about highlighting the importance of guaranteeing fresh Irish produce on the shelves going forward; about informing the customer about this race to the bottom. It’s just not possible to produce carrots or potatoes for €0.20/kg – and particularly in the year we’ve just had with the extra costs that are associated with the extremes in the weather.”
Noting that Irish farmers experienced everything from rain to snow to storms to drought, the IFA president noted that one farmer told him that irrigation machinery alone that he had to buy to ensure the growth of his potatoes were costing him an average of €50/t.
Healy also outlined another reason behind last Friday’s protest at an M&S store in west Dublin: “It was also when we were in Marks & Spencers about putting to bed this myth that Marks & Spencers and the other retailers trot out from time to time, that they cover the costs of those promotions."
It was put to Healy that the retailer’s response to such comments were that retailers “pay a fair price to their farmers; they have excellent, long relationships with them; and one of them specifically says that their pricing structure is not affected by the in-store promotions; that they cover their own costs on that”.
Responding to this, the president told agriland.ie: “I can assure you that it comes back on the farmer invariably –because all those retailers are about profits; and profits off the back of the producer– and they are the farmers. And that’s why, over the last 15 years, our vegetable growers have dropped in number by 56% from 377 down to 165.”
“That proves that it comes back to farmers and invariably when the promotions are run this year and over the last few months and throughout the year, when the retailers go back to do the contracts or to do the tenders with farmers, they reflect that in the prices that they give.”