Dáil Éireann - Volume 556 - 07 November, 2002
Written Answers. - Vegetable Production.
Mr. O'Dowd Mr. O'Dowd
27. Mr. O'Dowd asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food his views on the future of vegetable production here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20686/02]
Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh)
Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh): In the past five years the production and marketing of vegetables has undergone radical changes with the introduction of centralised distribution into Ireland. The increased importance of the retail multiple market has resulted in the concentration of supply to these outlets. The net effect has been the stabilisation of area grown for the fresh market, increased specialisation, scale and size of operational units and the exit of many smaller growers from the industry. Growers who have invested in their business to meet the requirements of retailers are those who have remained in the industry, by and large.
Vegetable production in Ireland is mainly focused on serving domestic market fresh product requirements. Large multinational companies, that source vegetables produced at the least cost, largely manufacture processed products. Existing producers have invested heavily in the past few years to continue to compete in the fresh market. They have put in place specialist infrastructure to grow, harvest, grade, pack, cool and store their crops and this has helped them to better control shelf-life and to hold produce until market conditions have improved. Certain products are now available all year round. The capital grant schemes operated by my Department under the operational programme for rural development and under the national development plan have been very important in facilitating these infrastructural developments. Due to the dominance in sales of fresh vegetables through the retail multiples, fresh market growers will only survive if they can reach the standards required by those multiples. All supermarkets operating in Ireland must demonstrate a continued commitment to buy vegetables grown in Ireland.
The development of producer organisations under EU regulations is aimed at assisting growers to meet the high standards demanded by the multiples. The objectives are to produce crops efficiently, to concentrate supply, to meet the highest quality standards and to respect environmental conditions. My Department has encouraged growers to form producer organisations and has operated an assistance scheme for them since 1998. There are now 17 recognised groups with a combined turnover of €127 million in 2001. The intention is to continue to expand the operation of producer organisations to help growers to meet  the increasing challenges of the marketplace. The production challenge for fresh vegetable growers is to maximise yields of premium grade produce and to achieve premium market prices, while using the minimum inputs to produce the crop. A secondary challenge is to maximise market share in-season and to extend the season at both ends; that is, early and late in the season. Growers who can meet these challenges have good future prospects, as long as they continually invest to improve the quality end of their business.
Dáil Éireann 556 Written Answers. Vegetable Production.