IFA president Joe Healy has called on consumers and retailers to support the Irish strawberry sector – a vital indigenous industry worth €47m at farm gate, with 57 growers producing over 8,000 tonnes annually.
Joe Healy said Irish growers produce top class produce year on year with production expected to surpass 8,000 tonnes this year.
Over 1,000 people are now employed in the industry and the total retail market is valued at €91m. This exceeds €100m when road side sales are included.
IFA Soft Fruit Growers chairman Jimmy Kearns said Irish strawberry growers have been hit by increased input costs across the business. These input costs increases are not reflected in the farm gate price that growers receive, resulting in lower margins.
Labour accounts for over 50% of input costs in the soft fruit industry. These costs have increased for the last number of years.
The introduction of worker permits for employees outside the European Economic Area is welcome, however the system must be more streamlined and user friendly for applicants.
Jimmy Kearns reminded consumers that Irish strawberry growers adhere to voluntary quality assurance schemes, which ensure the highest standards on traceability, food hygiene, workers’ rights and sustainability. However, he said this compliance creates an increasing financial burden on primary producers, which is not recognised by retailers.
“Sales of fruit continue to increase in volume as consumers are buying more quantity per trip, but it is critical that strawberries are treated as a premium product and that growers receive a fair return,” he said.
“Although Irish strawberries are synonymous with the Irish summer, growers have made sizeable investments on their farms to extend the production season beyond the summer months. Fresh fruit is now available to the Irish consumer from April right through to November.”
This year’s campaign focuses on strawberries as an alternative to confectionery. Buying Irish strawberries means that, as well as supporting a locally grown product and local industry, consumers also benefit from the nutritional and health benefits of strawberries.
They are a versatile fruit, which are naturally high in vitamins C and K as well as a good source of fibre, folic acid and phytonutrients known as anthocyanins (which give strawberries their vibrant red colour).
It has come to the attention of IFA that a number of road traders are selling imported strawberries as Irish. Joe Healy said consumers should check for country of origin when buying fruit and to support Irish production.