OGI Chairperson Orla Burke reports from the latest Horticulture Industry Forum held on 13 May 2024.

The Horticulture Industry Forum (HIF) was formed as a stakeholder group to facilitate a cooperative approach to the challenges that face the industry and to foster conditions that will grow and develop the industry on a long-term basis. It was formed in 2014 as an umbrella organisation for growers of Irish horticulture produce. Representatives from seven participating sectors, vegetables, mushrooms, soft fruit, top fruit, potatoes, amenity and protected crops meet twice a year to discuss key challenges and issues. The OGI represents organic growers at these Horticulture Industry Forum meetings.

The OGI attended the spring 2024 meeting of the Horticulture Industry Forum on May 13th 2024. At this latest meeting we highlighted the issues faced by organic growers due to the long winter and late spring, emphasising the labour issues faced by organic growers including the cost and shortage of labour and stressed the need to expand the horticulture labour force and the role that schools and higher education institutions need to start playing a part in this.

We also pointed to the need for more short supply chain training for organic growers involved in direct sales. We welcomed the small growers survey that took place since the last HIF meeting in November and stressed that our members are eagerly anticipating the next steps in order to see better supports for smaller growers, as promised in the National Strategy for Horticulture. We stressed the importance of the survey for gathering information on the sector and the intention of the OGI to help build on that data in the future.

We provided an update on the OGI Network and Work Placement Programme as well as our recent admission to the Organic Strategy Forum and how some of our actions on that forum will fall under the overall Horticulture Strategy. As part of a larger discussion on soil health, we highlighted the routine use of cover crops by organic growers. In relation to an upcoming study on import substitution of salad crops, we highlighted that our members have shown that salads can be produced over 52 weeks of the year with protected cropping and highlighted that the recent DAFM small growers survey may be able to provide valuable information on this topic and indeed that small growers could play an important part in the study.

There was an update on the newly formed Agri-Food Regulator who now has a horticulture representative, Paul Brophy, on its board, as well as an update on the written charter between growers and consolidators/retailers which is a work in progress as part of the Horticulture Strategy.