Mushroom industry needs extra 1,000 workers, says IFA
The mushroom industry needs an extra 1,000 workers to help it expand from its current base, the Irish Farmers' Association president, Mr Tom Parlon, said in Monaghan.
He said the main difficulty preventing expansion of the £120 million industry, which currently employs 9,000 people on 900 farms, was lack of skilled personnel.
One of the main reasons for the success of mushroom production in Ireland was that growers had access to a flexible local labour force to harvest the crop.
"What was once an advantage has now become the single biggest threat to the future expansion or indeed viability of the mushroom sector as potential workers are finding employment in other areas of the economy," he said.
Mr Parlon, who was speaking at the All Ireland Mushroom Conference and Trade Show organised by the IFA in Monaghan town last week, said he was currently in negotiation with Teagasc, the farm development service, to promote the job of mushroom-picking.
The idea, he said, was to promote mushroom-picking as a real job with good pay and good conditions.
Mushroom-growers, he said, should endeavour to attract workers who saw a future in the industry and found the pay and conditions attractive relative to other employment on offer.
He said that while mushroom-picking might not be a glamorous job, it could have advantages over other types because the work offered flexibility in working hours and could provide families in rural areas with extra income.
The chairman of the Irish Mushroom Growers' Association, Mr Aidan Ryan, said that to ensure a top-quality supply of mushrooms on a continuous basis, Irish mushrooms must be hand-picked by trained personnel.
Mr Ryan said the industry also faced another problem, how to dispose of the 350,000 tonnes of spent compost in regions where growers have limited access to land.
He said the environmental problem was also a barrier to expansion of the industry, which was currently exploring recycling, energy-conversion and other uses for disposing of the waste compost from mushroom units.