Cut foliage production as a new, innovative market led sector of Irish Horticulture. It describes the decorative greenery used in floristry and is obtained from a wide variety of trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennial plants.
Worldwide demand in developed countries is increasing and prospects for continuing expansion of the small Irish industry for export markets are very good. A total of 25 growers are currently exporting over €5 million of greenery providing much needed employment in harvest and processing in rural counties of Kerry, Wexford and Waterford.
Ironically at a time when there is overproduction of many farm commodities, the demand for high quality, well graded cut foliage to export markets is buoyant. Cut foliage is a valuable crop for the Irish economy with increased demand from the British and continental markets in recent years; fresh cut flowers, wreaths and foliage were worth €91m to the Irish market in 2010.
There is a continuous need for a stream of new material that is market led as buyers and customers are constantly looking for innovation with new products displaying different textures, colours and scents in a discerning and competitive market. Teagasc leads this work and in 2011 over 1 hectare of cut foliage shrubs were planted by Catherine Gavin and students at Teagasc Kildalton College, under the guidance of Andy Whelton, Ornamentals Specialist for Teagasc.
The purpose was to establish whether new species of plants can be grown successfully under Irish climatic conditions and whether there was interest from European buyers.
Agronomy practices such as plant density and optimum pruning regimes are tested on key species in Kildalton College. Pests and diseases are monitored along with determining more sustainable control measures.
This plantation is visited by existing and new growers but also provides a valuable learning opportunity for horticulture students at Teagasc kildalton College, in particular for QQI Level 5 students who get to work on these shrubs and some degree students who carry out trial work on plants for their final year projects.
Growers of foliage vary from farmers with mixed enterprises to those who have specialised in the business. 2-3 ha can provide maintenance, harvesting and processing work for one person working full-time.
It is a useful winter crop when other crops are not being harvested and also provides employment at that time of the year.
Given the interest from the market, there is a need for more foliage. There is support by way of grant aid from the Department of Agriculture for those interested in getting into the business provided Teagasc are satisfied with the land and area and that potential growers follow a strict protocol in regards to management and harvest which has been developed for the key species. It can cost €5000 to €12000 per ha to establish a plantation depending on the species and system of production and the returns can be in the region of €3000 to €7000 per annum from the third year onwards.
If you're interested in the enterprise or would like to become involved as a grower of foliage, why not come and visit the trials at Kildalton College. Contact Catherine Gavin on 051 644422 or Andy Whelton on 0877848065.