The vegetable sector is a very important sector of the horticultural industry which is capable of further substantial growth and development. The value of farm gate output of the fresh vegetables sector in 2006 is estimated at €80m of which outdoor field vegetables were valued at approximately €60m. While there has been a consolidation of grower numbers over the last number of years, production has remained relatively steady. As is common for all sectors of the food industry the vegetable sector has experienced strong competitive pressures from the highly concentrated retail chain which has resulted in static or falling prices. However, to assist the development of a competitive, consumer focused horticultural industry, my Department provides substantial support through the EU Producer Organisation Scheme and the National Development Plan.
The Producer Organisation Scheme provides a mechanism for producers to work together to strengthen their position in the market place by becoming part of a larger supply base, and thereby putting them in a position to negotiate more effectively with the supermarket multiples. Since 2000 over €24m in EU aid has been paid out to Irish POs of which fruit and vegetable POs have received approximately €2m. The proposals for reform of the Common Organisation of the Market for Fruit and Vegetables, which were presented to the Agriculture Council on 29 January, identify a strengthening of the role for POs as the core part of the strategy for improving the competitiveness of the fruit and vegetable sector in the future. The number of vegetable growers involved in Producer Organisations is relatively small and all growers should be encouraged to consider the potential benefits which membership can bring to their enterprise.
Under the 2000-2006 NDP Scheme of Investment Aid for development of the Commercial Horticulture Sector, over €20m has been paid out of which in excess of €3m was provided to vegetable producers. This scheme has enabled vegetable growers to reduce costs and improve the quality of products. Further grant aid of €10.5m has been provided for downstream developments in the edible horticulture industry of which the vegetable sector has been the main beneficiary. €6.5m will be provided in 2007 for horticultural producers under the new National Development Plan 2007-2013. Some €49m will be provided for horticultural producers towards investments in excess of €122m over the seven-year period. In accordance with the Agri-Vision 2015 Action Plan this support, which will be strategically targeted, will improve the overall development and competitiveness of the sector.