An “unacceptable” retail price forces market gardeners to exodus

Supermarkets unwilling to raise the price of vegetables grown in Ireland are forcing farmers to abandon this type of food production, says a farmer with more than 30 years of vegetable production under his belt.

oe Jones from North Dublin quit the industry last year and says some of the country’s biggest vegetable growers who have announced their decision to do the same are making the right decision.

“Input costs have skyrocketed, but the supply chain refuses to pay more for the producer’s products,” he said.

“I went from making money to losing a lot and it wasn’t worth it anymore. I knew things weren’t going to be different in five years, so I walked out.

“I used to grow a lot of cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli, but now I focus on growing wheat and barley for livestock feed.

“There is no willingness from supermarkets to raise their pay for products to an acceptable level.”

Meath-based Brussels sprout grower Cathal Lenehan announced last week that he was stepping back from the business after more than 40 years as his input costs have risen dramatically, but the price he has paid for his vegetables has not changed. Net profit has eroded every year, he says.

“I can’t name one entry that has stayed the same. The increase in fertilizer prices alone added another 3.8c to the cost of producing each head of cabbage. It’s just fertilizer.

“If vegetable production is to continue in Ireland, the country’s farmers and growers must be listened to and the supply chain must agree to pay us what we need. If our input costs have gone up, then we need more for our products,” he says.

Industry sources say there are less than 100 vegetable suppliers in the country, down from 165 growers in 2015. Additionally, 80% of the country’s vegetables are supplied by just 30 growers.

Paul Brophy, president of IFA Horticulture, which is one of the largest broccoli growers in the country, said that in 2018 he was one of 18 broccoli growers. Today there are only six. “It’s a massive decrease and still nothing is being done about it.”

Brophy also says that those who harvest vegetables by hand are the most affected compared to growing a crop that can be harvested by machine.

In a statement, Lidl said: “We are committed to investing in long-term partnerships with our local suppliers, developing our network and expanding our local range.

“We are committed to providing the best value and quality to our customers, while nurturing our relationships with local suppliers and helping them grow their business.”

A spokesman said Aldi is a committed supporter of Irish growers and food and drink producers, paying fair prices to all of its Irish suppliers.

“We have developed long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with our suppliers,” the spokesperson said.

“We are currently working closely with our Irish supply base due to significant cost pressures in the market.

“Our primary focus, sourcing seasonal Irish produce, remains.

“We spent over €1 billion with Irish producers last year, almost 20% more than in 2020.”

SuperValu said: “We have a longstanding commitment to farmers, and 100% of our SuperValu branded fresh meat is Irish.

“We always strive to provide the best value for suppliers and customers.

“We are proud to support local producers and businesses across the country – 75% of all our produce is sourced from Ireland, supporting 1,800 Irish suppliers.”

Retail Ireland declined to comment. Tesco and Dunnes Stores had not responded to questions from Farming Independent at press time.

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