In Ireland 4,500 ha of vegetables with a farm gate value of €73m are grown annually. We supply well over half our requirements but as our climate does not allow for all-year-round production, the remainder is imported. The main period for imports is from April to June.
Traditionally vegetable production took place close to the main centres of population, such as Dublin and Cork. It's no surprise that Dublin is the county growing the most vegetables, followed by Meath, Wexford and Cork. Vegetable growing is a very specialised and labour intensive enterprise. There are about 200 growers, many of whom have been in the business for generations. The industry gives employment to around 1,000 people.
A wide range of vegetables are grown in Ireland, the most popular being cabbage, carrots, broccoli, swedes, cauliflower and parsnips. Harvesting of vegetables takes place every week of the year but the main season of production is from July to March. Growers have made great strides in recent years to extend the seasons. For example carrot growers protect their over-wintered crop with straw and plastic to allow harvesting in April and May, whilst brassica growers cover their early crops with fleece for a June harvest.
Vegetables grow on a wide range of soil types and in every county of the country. Most vegetables are conventionally grown but there is a small but increasing acreage of organic production. Outlets include supermarkets, local shops, farmer's markets, restaurants and direct sale via the farm shop.
Vegetable growing is a tough business mainly due to the pressures of supplying the multiples and coping with the vagaries of the weather. This has led to a consolidation of the business in recent years with some growers leaving the industry and others scaling-up to reduce unit cost. However, there is tremendous satisfaction in successfully getting a product to market that looks great, tastes good and is bursting with goodness: that is Irish, locally grown vegetables.