Last Tuesday, as Coordinator of the Horticulture Industry Forum (HIF) I spent the day discussing the challenges facing the industry with 14 grower representatives, the Minister for Horticulture and representatives of Bord Bia, IFA, DAFM and Teagasc who are all represented on the Forum. The growers come from 7 sectors Amenity, Field Vegetable, Mushroom, Potato, Protected Vegetables, Protected Fruit and Top Fruit sectors, and a representative of the Organic Growers of Ireland attends too. This has been a very tough past 12 months, three severe weather events, Storm Ophelia, Storm Emma and then the drought. Despite this and continuing tight margins these growers display passion and enthusiasm for their trade. Over the years, there was much competition between growers and little collaboration, which has not helped the industry to shape a sustainable future. The majority of our commercial growers are now in their 50s and 60s, and because of the challenging nature of the business, their children are opting to work away from the farm. We now risk loosing the growing skills that have existed in these families for many generations. However, over the past 4 years of its existence, HIF is building the potential for real collaboration among growers. If this is sustained with the support of government agencies and with the “help” of the Irish buying public this vital industry can survive, prosper and deliver major benefits to Ireland and beyond.
A key element to the survival of the horticulture industry is the potential “help” that you can deliver, which is to demand, wherever you buy you fruit, vegetables and ornamental plants, that the produce is grown in Ireland. Take the trouble to ask the supermarket owner, restaurateur and produce seller “Is this grown in Ireland?” Impress on the seller that this is important to you and here are 3 compelling reasons why;
- Health – The recommended daily intake of fruit and vegetables is 7 portions a day and currently we are eating less than 3 a day. What better way to fight an obesity crisis than by giving our children more fruit and vegetables! Fresh produce is at its best when it is at its freshest. Scientifically the fresher the produce the greater the nutrient content and Irish grown produce is the freshest available to you. Don’t forget too, there are major mental health benefits derived from the activity of growing plants, being active in the garden and increasing the green leaf cover in our living environment.
- Combat Climate Change – By switching more of our agricultural activity from meat production to the crop growing, we would reduce methane and co2 emissions. In addition, climate change will cause crop failures across the world and as an island nation we must enhance, not reduce, our capacity to feed ourselves. Currently we import many fruit and vegetables that we could grow here. So by insisting on Irish grown produce you will encourage our growers to grow more and new growers to enter production.
- Sustainable Rural Based Jobs – Currently there are about 17,000 people employed in horticulture and this figure does not include those involved in the wholesale trade. By demanding and buying Irish grown produce you can contribute to a major increase in the number of people working in rural Ireland, making these communities more sustainable and vibrant.
It’s in your hands…..