Vegetable growers warn of exodus as sector on ‘last gasp’

Committee told dominant position of supermarket chains ‘single biggest threat’ to industry

Fruit and vegetable growers say they are on their “last gasp” and there is a risk that some vegetables will no longer be commercially grown in Ireland if action is not taken. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

Fruit and vegetable growers say they are on their “last gasp” and there is a risk that some vegetables will no longer be commercially grown in Ireland if action is not taken. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

 

Fruit and vegetable growers say they are on their “last gasp” and there is a risk that some vegetables will no longer be commercially grown in Ireland if action is not taken.

A group of growers told the Oireachtas Committee for Agriculture that the number of producers continued to fall as family businesses could no longer make a living from their work.

Matt Foley, chairman of IFA’s vegetable and protected crops committee, said one of the most disappointing things was that young people were not getting involved in vegetable growing.

“We see so so few young people coming into the business and you ask yourself why...the reality is they don’t see themselves making a good enough living out of it and unless you can get a proper economic return you won’t go into the business,” he said.

“And my experience is that once you stop growing, you never go back into it. If we lose that critical mass I don’t think we’ll be able to build it up again.”

Mr Foley said the single biggest threat to growers was the dominant position of the large supermarket chains who kept forcing down the prices paid to food suppliers.

“Our vulnerable sector is under particular pressure from the retailers and will not survive the price war if the Government does not address this issue.”

Potato grower Eddie Doyle said the “incessant and relentless pressure on promotions has driven us into the ground”.

Asked how many vegetable growers were left, he said “there are only five or six of us left in each category of vegetable that you care to think of..five or six serious growers” .

He said supermarkets were getting quotes from all competitors and then forcing the cheapest quotes on their growers, whether they offered that quote or not.

“That is what’s happening on the ground... they’ve [supermarkets]forced us to a position where nobody can sustain what they are doing and we are on the last gasp... to come in here to speak to you.”

Mr Foley asked the committee to support the growers’ call for Government action to regulate for below-cost selling.