Cut foliage could sustain 400 jobs by 2020 if Ireland can add value to export products such as flower bouquets and baskets, say industry experts.
Irish growers of cut foliage, referred to as the ‘filler’ in flower bouquets and arrangements, could easily grow exports to €30m in the next few years, attendees learned at yesterday’s Teagasc Cut Foliage Conference in Kildalton Horticultural College in Piltown, Co Kilkenny.
The plan is to build sales in peak windows such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day. Yesterday’s event brought leading UK cut foliage figures together with Ireland’s interagency steering committee for the sector, consisting of Teagasc, Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland, and the Department of Agriculture.
"We will have to be innovative, and develop new species," said Teagasc specialist Andy Whelton.
"There are great opportunities in this area, and we are putting resources into research to develop the area.
"There are about 30 people working full-time in the area right now, and those numbers swell by 100 or so in the peak production periods.
"The real potential lies in adding value in the processing of bouquets and other display products.
"If we get it right, the sector could sustain around 400 jobs by 2020, and this would bring in a lot of money into rural areas.
"It could also mean extra money to farmers, but it is a serious business and you would want to devote at least 25 acres to it."
Mr Whelton said the steering group is confident that a market exists to raise exports to €30m annually. The current Irish crop includes plants such as eucalyptus, laurel and pittosporum, but Teagasc is working closely with growers in developing other marketable species.
Development in this sector has gathered pace in recent years, with over 175 hectares grown among 20 growers in the Munster and Leinster regions, with the largest areas in Kerry and Wexford.
The EU market for cut foliage is worth €500m.
Demand for Irish cut foliage, which is harvested from a wide range of ornamental trees and shrubs, has increased significantly in the UK, where the market is worth around €100m annually.
Dr Simon Pearson of Winchester Growers, one of the UK’s main producers and suppliers of floral products to supermarkets, underpinned Teagasc’s views on the increasing demand for Irish product.
Dr Pearson said: "Ireland could potentially supply a substantial share of this market given the suitability of its climate for growing superior quality foliage and its well organised market-led research programme."
Industry figures in Kildalton agreed that opportunities exist for growers and landowners in southern counties.
They said the enterprise can be an ideal alternative farming enterprise for those in the right area with the right site who are adequately resourced and skilled.
Ted Massey, agriculture inspector with the Department of Agriculture, said: "The department is supporting the development of the cut foliage sector through its Scheme for Investment Aid in Commercial Horticulture and sees substantial potential in export sales and employment by 2020."