Produce shortages and good Irish suppliers

The start of a new growing season is upon us, and it always fills me with a sense of hope for the future. The plants will grow, and in a few short months we will be harvesting amazing fresh Irish organic produce.

It has been a reasonably normal February, wet, grey, coldish and overcast, but there have been times of great drying and sunshine too, earlier this month a break in the weather allowed us to get the farm ploughed and tilled ready for the season ahead.

Emmanuel and the team are doing powerful work, and possibly some of the most important work of the season. They are opening up the first of our compost bays and adding back this rich black organic compost to the tunnels. This compost is teeming with life, from the billions of microscopic bacteria to the larger earthworms. Adding this back to our tired tunnel soil will ensure that the crops this year are strong and healthy and full of goodness.

Planting of the first of these tunnels crops is a mere two-three weeks away now, the first inside planting of spinach, chard, salad and lettuce will take place in mid March.

The fields are looking pretty bare now, the only crops left growing are kale, purple sprouting broccoli and swede. We have a store of beetroot and parsnips in one of our cold stores too.

We are lucky though, to have such reliable and decent organic farmers here in Ireland such as Roy Lyttle growing Leeks for us in Antrim, red white and green cabbage from Padraig Fahy in Galway, mushrooms from John McArdle,  Irish apples from Richard Galvin in Waterford. We are very excited for the lovely new mixed Irish salad we will have next week too. Our potatoes, carrots and onions are still Irish, potatoes we aim to have year round Irish supply, for carrots it is a bit trickier.

This is all seasonal Irish fare and the pickings are getting slimmer as the season rolls on. You may have seen the bare fresh produce shelves in many supermarkets and the UK has started rationing supply of many of the fresh Mediterranean type vegetables such as peppers, aubergines and cucumbers.

We deal with a lot of growers on the continent too, to supply the out of season organic produce such as tomatoes and peppers. We have seen price rises of double and treble in our buying which is hard to manage and to maintain our prices.

Unusual cold weather has affected growers, and one supplier we spoke to last week said her farmers have had much of their tomato and pepper crops wiped out by unseasonable late frost.   It seems that unusual is the new usual and certainly as the effects of climate change are felt more and more, our food supply seems to balance on a very precarious edge.  But to invest in food production resilience there needs to be a level playing field, this is a very difficult to do, if farmers are not paid a fair price for what they produce.

It is the below cost selling practice by supermarkets which has weakened our non-export focused food industry and is causing more primary food producers here in Ireland to struggle to sustain their enterprises.

An IFA commissioned economics report published last March, stated that retail prices compression threatens the viability of Irish horticulture which could lead to even more reliance on imports to feed our nation.  The most recent national field vegetable census showed that the number of field vegetable growers fell from 377 in 1999 to 165 in 2014. That is a contraction of 56%

These skills are lost for ever, and once they are gone are difficult to replace.

I for one am grateful for our own farm and the farmers that supply us, we aim to pay fairly for the food we produce and buy, we price our produce as competitively as we can, and we feel by removing the middle man we are able to reasonably compete with the big supermarkets. But not if they continue to sell produce for below the cost of production.

As always, your support makes all the difference, here’s to brighter longer days.

Thank you.