We import far more food crops than we actually grow here at home, so there is scope for development in the home-grown market. We need to establish a large horticultural sector substituting imported foods for foods that can be grown in Ireland.
4,500 hectares of vegetables with a farm gate value of €73m are grown annually. Ireland supplies well over half its requirements of vegetables, but as our climate does not allow for all-year-round production the remainder is imported.
The following fruits are all grown here in Ireland, according to Bord Bia:
Apples, Blackberries, Blackcurrants, Blueberries, Gooseberries, Loganberries, Raspberries, Rhubarb, Strawberries and Tayberries.
Ireland is a net importer of fruits, so there is scope and potential for growth in this sector.
Legumes, Beans and Pulses:
The main protein crops of relevance in Ireland are the pulse crops, namely peas and beans. The growing of peas and beans for the fresh market is carried out on a limited scale, usually in polythene tunnels.
Traditionally these crops have not been widely grown here due to variable yields and disease problems, created largely by adverse weather conditions and non-availability of varieties suited to our climate. The marginal nature of these crops has also meant that there has been a low investment into research on breeding and agronomics.
There is scope to produce beans for food export markets, particularly Egypt where 450,000 tonnes are imported annually. The growing vegan food sector in Ireland also provides a potential market. These crops qualify for the Protein Aid Scheme which has seen the cultivation of Irish protein crops increase by 300% in 2015.
Nuts and Seeds:
Chestnuts, Cobnuts, Hazelnuts and Walnuts are all grown in Ireland and are suitable for the Irish climate. Other types of nuts can also be grown in the Irish climate, according to FruitandNut.ie. See also: the Irish Nut Growers website.
Flax and hemp seeds can also be produced here, and both are crops with a long history of cultivation in Ireland.
Ornamental horticulture includes cut flowers, foliage, pot plants, bedding plants and herbaceous plants, nursery stock and Christmas trees.
Polytunnels and Greenhouses:
A wide variety of vegetables can be grown in greenhouses, and on only a fraction of the land required for field cultivation of the same produce. Greenhouses allow plant foods to be grown in regions where the climate would not have been suitable – for example, Antarctica, Iceland, Holland, Las Vegas, etc. This excellent article from ‘Free from Harm’ discusses the potential of greenhouses in more detail.
Many salad vegetables and other plant foods are grown in Ireland in polytunnels and greenhouses. These are referred to as ‘protected crops’.
Greenhill Fruit Farm in Wexford is one example of a business which utilises greenhouses and polytunnels on a large scale.
These are crops that are not normally grown in Ireland as they are not believed to be suitable for the climate. However, many of these (for example, pecans, almonds, grapes, peaches, apricots, olives and chillies) can be grown in polytunnels or greenhouses. Some growers (particularly in the UK) have found that it is possible to grow some exotic plants (such as grapes, tea and coffee) outdoors.
Vertical farming is the practice of growing crops in vertically stacked layers. It usually incorporates controlled environment architecture (ie. light, humidity and temperature), which aims to optimize plant growth, and soilless farming techniques such as hydroponics. The main advantage of utilizing vertical farming technologies is the increased crop yield that comes with a smaller unit area of land requirement, and plants can be grown all year round.
Currently Farmony, based in Dublin, is the only vertical farming operation in Ireland.
- Horticulture Grants – https://www.agriculture.gov.ie/farmerschemespayments/horticultureschemes/
- Horticulture – from Teagasc – https://www.teagasc.ie/crops/horticulture/
- Fruit Production in Ireland – Bord Bia.
- Fruit Production – from Teagasc – https://www.teagasc.ie/crops/horticulture/fruit-production/
- Mushroom production in Ireland – https://www.teagasc.ie/crops/horticulture/mushrooms/
- Indigenous Supply of Plant-based Proteins for Ireland – https://www.teagasc.ie/media/website/crops/crops/Indigenous-supply-of-plant-based-protein.pdf
- Field Beans – from Teagasc – https://www.teagasc.ie/crops/crops/research/research-programme/cropquest/field-beans/