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Horticulture Action Group Report Targets Labour Costs and Supermarkets

Minister of State Endorses Recommendations on the Retail Sector

A top level committee representing the major interests in the horticulture industry has recommended the abolition of the Joint Labour Committee that sets wages for the industry, the introduction of a statutory code of practice for the retail sector and the continuation of State grants supporting horticulture into the future.

The recommendations are contained in a 25-page report to the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Shane McEntee TD.

The report points out that the cost of hiring labour in the Republic is 26% higher than in the UK and is a major factor affecting competiveness. Picking and harvesting of fresh produce is highly labour intensive and therefore the cost of employing workers is very important. It recommends:

  • The Joint Labour Committee (JLC) be abolished and minimum labour rates be brought in line with key competitor countries

The report emphasises that the Irish retail and catering markets are the most important outlets for fresh Irish horticulture produce. Growers of potatoes, vegetables and fruit are extremely concerned at the dominant role supermarkets have in controlling the price and quantities of produce marketed. The group recommends:

  • The introduction of a statutory Code of Practise for the retail sector and the appointment of an ombudsman to oversee its provisions.
  • The introduction of a mechanism whereby the amount of own brand product on a retail shelf is limited to 50% - thus enabling local producers to compete on better terms.
  • The re introduction of the ban on below cost selling including fresh produce

The Horticulture Action Group was established in December 2010 to review the horticulture recommendations in Department of Agriculture's long term strategy 'Food Harvest 2020'. The Group is responsible for reporting to the higher level implementation group chaired by the Minister for Agriculture with an action plan on how the recommendations can be progressed and how the horticulture sector can contribute to the targets set down in 'Food Harvest 2020.'

The Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Shane McEntee TD, said he endorsed the Group's recommendations in relation to creating a more level playing field in the retail sector. "My colleague, Richard Bruton TD, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is currently considering the recommendations of a major report on the role of supermarkets and I will be writing to him emphasising the importance of greater statutory oversight on retail multiples because of their negative impact on an industry that supports 6,000 full-time equivalent jobs in primary production and a further 10,000 in 'value added' jobs."

The Minister of State said the of issue of wage setting by Joint Labour Committees is also being considered by the same Minister and he will draw the findings of the Horticulture Action Group on this issue to his attention.

"I also note with favour the Group's emphasis on the urgency of promoting and facilitating more collaborative initiatives within horticulture," the Minister of State said. "This is something I feel strongly about and will be working to promote. Collaboration and co-operation between producers increases their purchasing power for inputs as well as their selling power to the big supermarket chains. I welcome their recommendation that State grant funding to the industry should continue and I will be working hard to achieve that in the current Government Expenditure Review."

Notes for Editor

See also attached Appendix 1 and Appendix 2

Horticultural Output - 2010 Estimate

  • Protected Crops €72ml
  • Mushrooms €98ml
  • Field Vegetables €60ml
  • Fruit (outdoor) €8ml
  • Amenity/Nursery/Flower Crops €42
  • Potatoes €84ml
  • Total output €364ml


The mushroom industry is the largest sector of the Horticulture industry. The 80 growers are principally located in Monaghan, Tipperary, Cavan and Mayo and produce an estimated 45,000 tonnes of mushrooms annually. At least 70% of the production is exported to the UK, where Irish mushrooms account for about half of all retail sales of mushrooms.

Potato Sector

In 2010, it was estimated that there were 11,200 hectares of potatoes grown in the country. 1,475 farmers listed potato production on their SPS applications.

Field Vegetables

The 2009 National Field Vegetable Census reported a production area for field vegetables of 4,590 ha which is an 8% increase on 2005 and similar to the area recorded in 1999. The census shows that there are now 212 commercial field vegetable growers.

Protected Crops

There are 120 protected crop growers mainly located in North Dublin, Louth and Wexford. The main crops grown under protection are tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and some flower crops.


Over 70 growers are involved in soft fruit production where the main crops grown are strawberries, raspberries and blackcurrants.

Nursery Stock:

There are over 100 nursery stock producers located mainly in Kildare, Tipperary, Kilkenny and the east of the Country.


The key market for the horticultural Industry is the domestic market. The two main areas of export are Mushrooms to the UK (€100m each year) and Amenity horticultural products (€10ml per annum including Nursery Stock plants, Cut Foliage & Christmas Trees). The majority of horticultural production is sold on the home market. The key outlets for fresh produce are the retail market. This market is valued at €1.2bn per annum (total household purchase in shops including home produced and imported produce). The other important outlet for produce is the food service (i.e. catering) sector.

Appendix One

Among the other main recommendations made by the Horticulture Group are:

  • A review of the mechanism for setting gas prices
  • A mechanism (and monitoring process) to be put in place by Government that will allow horticulture businesses access to working capital to facilitate planting of crops and facilitate import substitution.
  • That additional resources be allocated to responsible promotional and health agencies to increase the level of promotional activity around local produce.
  • The establishment of a committee representing the key promotional agencies to assist in the coordinating and efficacy of promotional activity.
  • That co-funding from the fresh produce Industry to support Bord Bia Quality Mark promotions focusing on fresh produce is progressed. 
  • There should be increased promotion of fresh produce at secondary school level.
  • That the NDP Commercial Horticulture Grant Scheme be implemented on a two year approval cycle rather than on an annual basis to take account of the seasonality of certain crops and  the time frame involved in securing planning permissions.
  • That  the NDP Grant Scheme be extended to include Potatoes.
  • That grant aid is made available for valued added/processing activity in the horticulture sector.

A full copy of the Report is available on request

Appendix 2

Horticulture Action Group Membership

  • Kieran Dunne , L&K Dunne Nurseries Ltd (Chairman)
  • Caroline Keeling, Keelings Ltd
  • John  Hogan, DMG
  • Lavinia Walsh, Silverfort Mushrooms
  • Maurice Whelton, Clonakilty Potatoes
  • Gabriel Roe (DAFF)
  • Jim O'Mahony (Teagasc)
  • Mike Neary (Bord Bia)

added 270611
To mark the submission to him of the Horticulture Action Group's Report, the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and the Marine, Shane McEntee TD, visited McCarthy's Strawberry Farm, Sallins, County Kildare to see production and packing at first hand. The report recommends abolishing the Joint Labour Committee that sets wages for the industry, the introduction of a statutory code of practice for the retail sector and the continuation of State grants supporting horticulture.
(Left to right) Gary McCarthy, Shane McEntee TD and Kieran Dunne, Chairman of the Horticulture Action Group. Photo: Barry Cronin

added 270611  added 270611

(Left to right) Shane McEntee TD and Gary               (Left to right) Mike Neary (Bord Bia), Shane
McCarthy. Photo: Barry Cronin                                  McEntee TD, Jim O'Mahony (Teagasc), Maurice
                                                                                  Whelton (Clonakilty Potatoes) and Kieran Dunne,
                                                                                  L&K Nurseries Ltd (Chairman of the Action Group)
                                                                                  Photo: Barry Cronin

added 270611

(Left to right) Agnes Dadol, Shane McEntee TD, Gary McCarthy and Klaudia Kawka
Photo: Barry Cronin

Date Released: 24 June 2011