Thursday, 8 December 2005
Department of Agriculture and Food
With annual farm-gate production valued currently at €270 million and retail sales in the order of €650 million, the sector employs some 10,000 people across the production and distribution chain. The key issue that has impacted on the development of the horticulture industry as a whole in recent years is the increased concentration at retail level with the consequent significant change in the supply chain. My Department, recognising the marketing advantages and challenges of consolidation and scale, has contributed to the development of the industry, particularly through its grant aid schemes under the national development plan. These schemes have been a catalyst for investment and growth and have assisted producers to upgrade or develop new production facilities and have also enabled commercial enterprises to improve marketing and processing facilities.
The scheme to assist capital investment on farms under the national development plan aims to promote the specialisation and diversification of on-farm activities, improvement in the quality of products and to facilitate environmentally friendly practices and improved working conditions on farms. Since 2001 over €8 million has been paid to 400 horticultural producers throughout the country to upgrade or develop new facilities. This year a €6 million grant package will fund projects to the value of over €17 million. All areas of horticulture are eligible for the scheme.
Demand in the consumer and foodservice sectors is buoyant, both for fresh and prepared chilled produce and convenient value-added products. The retail value of prepared horticultural produce was estimated to be €59.8 million in 2004, representing a two-fold increase on 2001 and there are real investment opportunities and challenges for development of this sector. For the first time this year, projects in the fruit and vegetable sector have been prioritised in the scheme of aid for the marketing and processing of agricultural products, which supports capital investment to enhance competitiveness and added value. Some 23 applications were submitted representing total investments of €25 million and these are currently in the final stages of evaluation.
In addition, horticulture producers benefit from EU aid under the producer organisation scheme. Some €5.6 million was paid to ten recognised producer organisations this year. The development of producer organisations under EU regulations has made a very important contribution to the development of the sector as it enables producers to benefit from their combined strength in the production and marketing of their product.