The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food, and the Marine has been informed that produce that is entirely marketable is being turned down by packers and retailers due to minor imperfections. This issue was discussed as part of the broader conversation about the challenges confronting the fruit and vegetable industry in Ireland. The committee also learned that over the past decade, the specifications set by supermarkets for all fresh produce have significantly intensified.
Representatives from the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) conveyed the need for an “educational campaign for both retail buyers and consumers” regarding the appearance of produce. IFA President Tim Cullinan pointed out that growers often face expectations that potatoes must now resemble the appearance of eating apples. Some facilities are even investing in technology to find alternative uses for this produce that would otherwise be destined for cattle feed.
Cullinan also highlighted the multifaceted challenges the horticulture sector in Ireland is currently confronting, with adverse weather conditions hampering crop harvesting.
While the government’s recent horticulture support scheme was appreciated, the IFA expressed disappointment regarding the exclusion of certain growers from the program, particularly white mushroom and Irish-grown strawberry producers. The IFA stressed the urgency of rectifying this situation and noted the significant reduction in the number of growers in the mushroom sector in recent years.
Cullinan further emphasized that the horticultural sector in Ireland is facing contraction, potentially leading to the loss of family farms. The IFA revealed that nearly all horticultural produce is sold in the domestic market, and it pointed out that a handful of major supermarket groups, including Dunnes Stores, SuperValu, Tesco, Aldi, and Lidl, dominate the Irish grocery market. These retailers use fresh produce as marketing tools to attract consumers with discount prices that often do not account for the overall production costs.
Cullinan cautioned that the prices received by growers have consistently declined until 2022, and the true costs of special promotions provided by retailers are eventually integrated into procurement prices.