While signalling the health benefits of increased fruit consumption, the Teagasc national berry seminar also highlighted the economic benefits, with an increasing proportion of these fruits being produced in Ireland.
Protected strawberry production is now the mainstay of the berry industry in Ireland.
Addressing the seminar, sponsored by Bord Bia and the Irish Soft Fruit Growers Association, Shane McEntee, junior minister at the Department of Agriculture and Food, praised Irish growers for investing in protective structures in recent years as well as other specialised equipment to reduce input costs and improve efficiency.
Teagasc soft fruit specialist Eamonn Kehoe said: “People realise the health benefits of eating fresh fruit and consumption is holding. Irish growers have responded by investing in new glasshouses to provide fresh fruit for a longer season.
“There are possibilities for savvy people who spot a lack of supply in their local area to get into the business. Over the last year some people who have lost their jobs have entered the business and are now growing strawberries.”
The Irish soft fruit industry has grown by 190% in the last decade alone and the sector has been very resilient during the economic downturn.
Growers have invested millions in new glasshouse technology to extend the growing season for Irish soft fruit. Most of the fruit grown is for home consumption but about 15% is exported to Britain each year.
Teagasc research at Kinsealy on strawberry tray plants has been vital for a number of strawberry plant producers in Ireland.
They have increased their production over the last number of years and may be in a position to export in the future. This has allowed Irish growers to reduce their reliance on imported plant material by at least 40%.
Meanwhile, Mr McEntee also recently launched the Agri Aware Farm and Countryside Safety initiative at Dublin Zoo.
At the launch, Mr McEntee highlighted the very high rate of serious accidents on farms compared to other industries.
He said: “Statistics show that accidents on farms cause more workplace deaths than all other occupations combined. It is also clear that the most vulnerable people to accidents and injury in the farming sector are the old and the young.”
Mr McEntee said this problem could only be tackled by education and by raising awareness within the farming community.
“No single action or organisation that can solve this difficult problem that impacts so negatively on so many lives each year. We must all work together with the single goal of preventing farm accidents and therefore saving lives and preventing serious injuries,” Mr McEntee said.
The Farm and Countryside Safety project is located in the Family Farm at Dublin Zoo. It is supported by Agri Aware, in conjunction with FBD Insurance, the IFA, and ESB Networks.
The programme will culminate with the production of a 2013 calendar featuring selected images of safety messages drawn or painted by children. The calendar will be sent to all primary schools in the country.