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Horticulture & Potatoes

General Market Situation

Weather conditions meant 2010 was a very difficult year for the potato industry and many sectors within the horticultural industry.  While the summer weather provided much more favourable growing conditions than recent years, the severe weather at the start and the end of 2010 significantly reduced the value of output for the sector.  This was largely due to frost damage rendering produce un-saleable.  Losses at the start of the year were so severe that a Frost Damage Compensation Scheme was provided for potato and vegetable producers that had losses of over 30% of their annual production. 180 growers received almost €4 million in compensation.  Given the scale of the losses experienced, this Scheme was essential to preserve Ireland’s horticultural and potato production capacity as well as its food security.

The sector continued to face downward price pressure as competition within the retail trade increased in response to the economic downturn.  Cash flow and restrictions on the availability of credit also impacted on investment at grower level with the result that less than 50% of the investment approved for the sector under the National Development Plan actually went ahead.

Horticulture Output in Ireland

The horticulture (excluding potatoes) sector contributed approximately €291m to farm output in 2009, the latest year for which data is available.

Table3.11 

Mushrooms:

The value of output from the mushroom sector remained reasonably static in 2010 and grower numbers appear to have stabilised at around 80 growers.  Given that over 70% of production continued to be exported to the UK market, the weakening of Sterling against the Euro improved grower returns.  During the year, growers made significant investments in energy saving measures, technology to improve product quality and overall investments to improve technical efficiency.  The sector continues to perform well and, given the level of efficiency and investment achieved by growers, has very positive future prospects.

Fruit and Vegetables:

Winter field vegetable crops (carrots, cauliflowers, cabbage and swedes) suffered the most severe losses due to the cold weather which caused severe frost damage at both the start and the end of 2010.  In many cases frost damage rendered entire crops valueless.  The frost damage in December 2010 was compounded by lying snow resulting in severe bird damage on many brassica crops as flocks consumed crops in the absence of other food.  While field vegetable growing conditions during the year were favourable and yields were good, the two consecutive severe winters have lead many growers to consider whether it’s viable to continue to take the risk of producing winter vegetables, whilst others are considering investment in frost protection measures.

The soft fruit sector faired reasonably well in 2010 with strong yields arising from good summer weather.  Strong consumer demand helped minimise price falls for growers despite strong competition between the retail multiples.  The apple sector achieved very strong yields in 2010 resulting in an increase in production of approximately 25% compared to 2009 when production was severely hit by an apple scab epidemic.   The weakening of Sterling against the Euro also improved the contracted price for Irish cider apples.  However, the prices for culinary and dessert apples suffered to an extent due to strong supply coupled with a very competitive retail market.

 Potato Sector

While the potato production area fell in 2010 compared to 2009, this was more than offset by a very good growing season and good harvesting conditions combining to give very high saleable yields.  Growers who suffered severe financial losses due to frost damage at the start of the year took every available opportunity to harvest potatoes during Autumn 2010 with the result that the severe weather towards the end of the year didn’t impact significantly on the output of the crop.

The high yields coupled with relatively poor demand lead to difficult market conditions as traders envisaged a large surplus of potatoes coming onto the market.  However the opportunity to export potatoes opened up for the first time in recent decades with a significant quantity of potatoes being shipped to Russia in late 2010.  This trade continued into early 2011 with the effect of firming up the domestic market and stimulating demand for good washing quality potatoes.

Figure3.10 

Table3.12 

Nursery Stock:

Like the field vegetable sector, many of growers in the nursery sector suffered severe losses due to frost damage to their plants at the start of the year.  This was compounded in a number of cases by severe damage to replacement plants when severe frosts returned at the end of 2010.  Those who had the option of heating protected structures to avoid frost damage incurred very significant increases in production costs as they struggled to keep plants alive.
 
The nursery sector also continued to suffer from the severe slow-down in economic activity.  Improved weather at critical times during the spring and summer increased sales to the gardening market, however the sector continued to struggle in light of the collapse in construction activity and the knock effect that has had for what was the nursery sector’s main market; landscaping.  Many growers in the nursery sector have re-aligned their production systems to supply alternative markets (including the export market) in response to changing customer demands (high value plants are harder to sell due to tighter budgets).