Growers of some vegetables in Ireland are almost extinct as there is only one iceberg lettuce farmer left and only one growing scallions.
Discounted imports of produce on top of supermarkets using vegetables as cheap attractions to entice customers into their stores are putting Irish growers out of business.
Irish Farmers Association vegetable committee chairman Paul Brophy says cheap produce is not always good, consumer choice is already limited and there will be a huge loss of skill if the remaining farmers pack it in.
The chairman, who is one of Ireland’s largest broccoli farmers, said: “So where is the choice for consumers in allowing this to happen? And, if these producers should happen to give up, their knowledge and skill base would be lost to the country.”
Mr Brophy said supermarkets that sold vegetables all year round at cheaper prices were having a devastating impact on Irish producers.
He said: “We used to have 600 produce growers in the country, now we are down to 240.
“Until the recent spell of bad weather in countries like Spain, the supermarkets were able to bring vegetables like broccoli into this country all year-round. Here in Ireland, broccoli is a summer vegetable. Yet we now have a situation where there is only a 55% chance that a head of broccoli purchased in Ireland between mid-June and mid-November will be home grown.
“The principle of seasonality no longer holds within the fresh produce sector. The drive towards cheap food is having major repercussions for the vegetable sector. Seasonality is not a third world issue; it is a first world problem.
“No one would put cheap petrol in their car. But consumers are happy to put cheap food into their own bodies and those of their children.”
On his own farm Brophy started planting this year’s crop in heated poly tunnels around two weeks ago. It will take another five weeks before they are ready for transplanting out in the fields.
By Chris McCullough