Last week, I attended Bord Bia’s Horticulture Industry Day where Bord Bia presented statistics on the 2019 1) Fresh produce retail market , 2) Fresh produce food service market and 3) Non-food Horticulture market sales. The headline figure for the Fresh Produce retail market for fruit and vegetables has risen from €1.5bn in 2018 to €1.6bn in 2019. There was a slight fall 0.1% in fresh veg sales (ex potatoes), a 12% rise in potato sales and 3.1% increase in fresh fruit sales.
It was good to see the significant rise in the sales of potatoes but this rise may not necessarily have resulted in an increase in sales for Irish producers. Potato farmgate sales values were static at €80m in 2017 and 2018, so we’ll need to see the 2019 figures before we can assess this. The total food horticulture farmgate sales value was €361m in 2018. If the 2018 Fresh Produce Retail Market figure of €1.5bn are added to the 2018 Food Service Fresh Produce of €400m, it is clear that a huge proportion of our fruit and vegetables are imported.
This situation is likely to worsen in the coming years unless we allocate resources into developing horticulture in Ireland. As the trend to plant based diets picks up momentum, demand for fruit and vegetables as well as plant based ingredients will rise. This trend opens opportunity to grow more of our traditional crops as well as the chance to grow new crops. Advances in horticulture, using protect structures, particularly crops grown under glass, provides the capacity to grow crops in every corner of Ireland, even in areas with poor soils. However, a serious increase in R & D resources are required to do this. Young farmers need to be attracted into horticulture to grow crops to meet the rise in domestic demand and take advantage of significant export opportunities. With a new government coming to power in the near future, the question is, will the new administration recognise the potential of horticulture and ensure that the requisite resources are made available?