Prominent vegetable grower quits over below-cost prices

Many retailers are offering growers as little as 10-12 cents for a head of cauliflower, but 22 cents a head is needed just to break even
Prominent vegetable grower quits over below-cost prices

Vegetable grower William Lenane at his roadside stall beside the busy N25 at Youghal Bridge, Co Cork. Pic: Larry Cummins

Another horticultural grower has said this season will be his last. 

Youghal brassicas grower William Lenane has spent almost seven decades in the industry. He grows 20 acres of grain, 10 acres of potatoes and a further five acres of horticultural vegetables, but says that the derisory prices of veg on the market mean that he will be forced to stop growing veg at the end of this season.

Mr Lenane runs two roadside stalls to sell his produce but explained that because vegetables are sold as a loss leader in supermarkets, while inflation drives up costs on all fronts, the public is increasingly unwilling to pay above the cost of production.

“They are talking about food being scarce and trying to encourage people to grow vegetables, yet I have a lot of produce that I just can’t sell. I’m going to have to plough it back into the ground because the market just isn’t there for a fair price for it,” he said.

Mr Lenane explained that while there is nothing wrong with any of the produce, the price offered for it is wrong.

“You can sell it for literally nothing, but that is all you will get for it,” he told the Irish Examiner.

And when retailers are offering growers as little as 10-12 cents for a head of cauliflower, it’s no wonder he feels that way.

Mr Lenane explained that 22 cents a head would allow him to break even, but he reckons it would take 60 cents a head for it to be truly viable.

His woes with the potato crop are also further exacerbated by the recent drought, which is causing his main crop, due to be harvested in a month’s time, to struggle.

Despite hopes that the new ombudsman could call an end to the practice, Minister McConalogue warned just last month that the new Office for Fairness and Transparency in the Agri-Food Supply Chain will be powerless to ban the below-cost selling of vegetables.

There used to be 30 horticultural growers where Mr Lenane is from in East Co Cork, but today there are just two.

“Most of them have given up because they aren’t making money from it,” he said. “The days of being able to produce veg for next to nothing are gone.

“People will tell you that they have spent €50 or €60 a head on a meal out, yet they will argue over an extra 10 cents on a head of cabbage.

“If you don’t get paid for what you sell, you’re wasting your time. It’s a non-runner from the start.”

While an extra 20 cents on a cabbage isn’t a significant increase to any shopper, it can mean an extra €2,000 of income per acre - often the difference in making even on the crop.

“I’ve 2,000 head of cabbage that I’ll be rotivating into the ground in the next week to 10 days, and I’ll just sow grass seed instead. It’s the same for cauliflower and broccoli. It’s a complete waste of time at 10-12 cents per head,” Mr Lenane said.

“Those shops selling veg at 49 cents per head are driving us all out. Eventually, there will be nothing growing in this country, and that is the cause of it.”

This week Minister McConalogue announced plans to scrap the Three-Crop Rule for 2023 to encourage growers to sow crops for food production. However, with several growers already making the call to exit, the issues run much deeper.

In February, Irish Examiner readers heard how one of the biggest sprout growers on the island, Cahal Lenehan, made the call not to purchase any seeds this season because he, along with his brother, Rory, were among the first to make the decision to stop growing.

The Meath grower also cited low farm-gate prices as the reason, and warned more than six months ago that he would not be the last to exit unless significant increases were made to prices.

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