VEGETABLE growers need to sell their produce for more than the cost of production, according to a local Dáil deputy.
Speaking in the Dáil recently, Deputy Michael McNamara acknowledged the importance of replacing imported horticulture with Irish horticulture.
However, he warned it would be difficult to do that when carrots are for sale at 49 cent per bag.
“There has to be some correlation between the price at which products are sold and the cost of production. I grew up in Clare and there was extensive market gardening in Kinvara, presumably supplying Galway mainly, and in Ogonnelloe, supplying Limerick.
“That is all gone because who can compete? People think they are doing the world a favour when they are buying organic carrots from Morocco that have been flown in here.
“Unless there is some type of link between the cost of production and the price at which produce is sold, there will be a difficulty.”
“A further difficulty is that while it provides an opportunity for more jobs, as Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh said, existing producers cannot get labour.
“I realise it is a matter for the Department of Justice but we really need to look at labour because it is a problem in the horticulture sector and in the general agriculture sector, yet we are deporting people from Ireland.
“Many of them near my constituency are from Brazil. They came here to work and have family links. They are being deported because there is no work, yet nobody can get workers,” the Independent deputy added.
Deputy McNamara made his comments after Green Party Deputy Marc O Cathasaigh asked Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Pippa Hackett about the KPMG report commissioned by the Department of Agriculture on growth opportunities in the horticulture sector, including opportunities deriving from the global trend towards plant-based diets.
Minister Hackett admitted the labour issue is going to continue to be a problem, and wondered where it will end.
She warned the country is spiralling towards a race to the bottom and stressed this track needs to be changed.
“Many wonderful local food producers operate off a handful of acres, maybe employing five or six people supplying a small town with quite a significant number of horticultural projects and making a good living out of it.
“Therefore, it can be done. It is small scale. I suppose we very much focused on the retail side, the larger commercial growers and the supports tended to go that way, which is fine, but we end up with that conundrum.
“However, we also need to support people to grow for retail. That may drive us down the road whereby we are always looking for cheaper labour, always struggling with the price at the till.
We need to look to other routes to market. Connecting with local growers is the way to go,” she stated.
by Dan Danaher