Thursday, 12 December 1996
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. S. Ryan: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for affording me the opportunity to raise the future of the vegetable industry. The decline of the horticultural industry, particularly over the past ten years, has badly affected the growers not only in Rush and Lusk in my constituency but also throughout the country. In the mid 1970s, for example, there were approximately 2,000 vegetable producers. Today there are only 600. In 1994 we imported over £87 million worth of vegetables. In this context, it is hardly surprising that Irish producers have cut back on the amount they produce. Producers have had a difficult time with little or no price increases, increased production costs and competition from imports. Is it any wonder that producers are becoming disillusioned? Producers, wholesalers and retailers must ensure they have a future in this business.
In 1995 the market for fresh vegetables was worth £150 million; we cannot afford to neglect it. What is required to ensure that the market for Irish vegetables is maintained and, perhaps, extended to the UK? There must be opportunities that we, as a country with a good environmental record, can exploit. We talk a lot about our green image. It is time to put it to good use.
We must convince consumers that Irish vegetables are of the highest quality, meet strict hygiene standards and are produced in a clean and environmentally friendly way. An Bord Glas and Teagasc have a major role to play in this regard. A co-ordinated plan is needed to identify the market requirements throughout the year, especially those of the supermarkets which comprise almost 60 per cent of the market. Investment is urgently required to improve our marketing strategy and to enable us to avail of modern multimedia advertising techniques. The message must be conveyed that there is no need  to purchase imported vegetables and that for most of the year home grown vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, swede turnips and cauliflowers are available.
We should compliment Teagasc on its achievements in research and development which have been of great benefit to the industry. However, more research staff are urgently required to supplement the efforts of the existing researcher who is no longer working on a full-time basis in the vegetable industry.
I appeal to the Minister at a time of economic boom to make further investment in the horticultural industry which, unlike the wider agricultural industry, cannot avail of intervention or support mechanisms. I compliment the Minister on his commitment to the industry. If he can secure the Government's approval for additional funding, he will contribute to the retention of existing jobs and the creation of new jobs in rural communities. I look forward to the Minister's reply.
Minister of State at Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Deenihan): I compliment the Deputy on his comprehensive treatment of the horticultural industry. Our membership of the EU and of the Single Market and the operation of the common organisation of the market in vegetables have resulted in increased competition in the Irish market for vegetables from the perspectives of both price and range of products. The best response that producers can make is to continually strive to improve efficiency and quality. The Government continues to provide funding to Teagasc to enable it to continue its research and advisory programme on, inter alia, vegetable production.
The Bord Glas development plan is a five-year plan aimed at developing the potential of the horticultural industry, including the vegetable sector. The main emphasis within the sector will be on maintaining and increasing domestic market share which now stands at 75 per cent to 80 per cent for the principal lines.
Earlier this year I established the Horticultural Industry Forum, comprising representatives of producers, wholesalers, retailers and State bodies with a view to creating closer co-operation between the various strands of the industry. In its programme for 1997 An Bord Glas, in co-operation with producers, wholesalers and retailers, is placing heavy emphasis on increased market co-ordination. Both the IFA and growers in north County Dublin are appreciative of the role An Bord Glas is playing in this regard.
In its 1997 programme, in co-operation with producers, wholesalers and retailers, An Bord Glas will place heavy emphasis on increased market co-ordination. The IFA and growers in north county Dublin appreciate the role An Bord Glas plays in this regard. A number of EU assisted grant aid schemes are available to producers, including the farm improvement  programme, the scheme of grant aid for investment in commercial horticulture and FEOGA processing and the marketing grant aid scheme. They provide valuable assistance towards the development of the industry.
In early 1997 I intend to summon all the agencies that play a role in the horticulture sector to establish how we can avoid fragmentation and duplication. We want to get the best value possible from the funding available to that sector. I am glad the Deputy raised this matter as it enabled me to outline what the Government is doing for the horticulture sector. It will receive every attention possible in 1997.
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