The Irish horticulture industry saw output decline by 14% last year, and industry sources are warning that labour shortages are creating a crisis. Measures to tackle a shortfall of over 1,000 seasonal workers are outlined at a Teagasc-Irish Horticulture Forum Institute conference in Newbridge Co Kildare.
Unattractive pay rates and low profit margins in the sector are being blamed for the crisis. This decline in output is set to worsen this year unless stimulus measures are taken by stakeholders across the sector, Stiofán Nutty of the Horticultural Industry Forum told the Farming Independent.
According to Nutty, the shortfall in workers for the sector was being caused by low pay and high living costs here, combined with more attractive opportunities elsewhere. The seasonal workers, who traditionally come from the Baltic states, Romania and Bulgaria, are finding Ireland less attractive as a workplace because the rates of pay in horticulture (€9-12 an hour) were not attractive when put against the cost of living here - especially accommodation.
Also, the incentive to Ireland for nine months of the year is becoming less urgent because the economies in their home countries are improving, and more enticing permit deals are being offered by other European states like Germany, Nutty pointed out.
While the sector welcomed the decision by the Department of Agriculture to introduce work permits to Europeans coming to work in Ireland, the 500 approved this year came too late and much more would be required to get Irish horticulture back into a growth situation. The Horticultural Industry Forum is also stressing that the partners in the sector, including the supermarket chains, have to do more to improve margins for farmers affected.