This season’s growing conditions in Ireland have been better for some crops than others. It was certainly a more favourable season than last year’s drought-stricken conditions. The looming uncertainty of Brexit and trading environment made it very difficult to plan for the future.
Unfortunately, farm gate prices remain at last year’s pre-drought prices and growers’ have not received any increases despite the increase of input costs such as labour, fertiliser etc. The costs associated with changes in packaging continue to cause grave concern for growers, in some instances, cases arise where growers are left with unused packing after changes to product packaging which were not agreed in advance by some retailers.
The weakness of Sterling continues to be a challenge for the sector. The problem will be worse this season more than last, as weather conditions in the UK limit the quantities of product available for export.
Labour shortage was a huge problem for growers once again this season. Although growers availed of the non-EU work permits this year, it was a time-consuming process and many did not receive the workers in time for their busiest harvest periods.
Protected crops and salads
Following a poor spring period with poor light levels and below average temperatures, the backend of the season progressed quite well for protected crops and salads. Reported light levels were poor in September but improved for the rest of the season. Reasonable yields were reported, similar to last year. Temperatures remained quite stable which aided production and consumption.
Retailers stocked Irish lines where possible throughout the summer months. Packaging remains a huge concern for tomato growers, some retailers are moving from plastic towards cardboard but growers cannot be expected to foot the extra costs. Changes such as this will also require change in packing machinery which are a significant investment for growers.
Again, sourcing labour and accommodation was a major concern for this period even with the option of non- EEA work permits.
The fusarium issue in lettuce continues to be a major issue. The reduction in the critical mass of growers in the salad sector remains a serious issue and the continued reductions in retail prices remains a problem.
This year’s strawberry season was an improvement on last year’s heat affected season. The new variety Centerary which many growers are now using proved excellent in terms of quality and rate of picking however yields were significantly reduced. Centenary provides consistently high-quality fruit however yields are reported to be less than for Elsanta. Retailers must recognise this reduced yield moving forward. New packing requirements are a major issue for strawberry growers due to the nature of the fruit. Growers must be given adequate notice to any changes in packaging.