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Pick, Pack, Sell: Producing Horticulture in 21st Century Ireland

Sally Daly

External Examiner: Professor Charalambos Kasimis, Professor of Rural Sociology, Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development, Agricultural University of Athens
Date Awarded: 2012
Sally Daly SEPR graduated thesis 2012


Within recent years in Ireland, the increasing regulatory power of retailers has developed in tandem with a re-localisation rhetoric within the agri-food sector. In that regard, producers (inclusive of farmers and growers) in Ireland are working within a broad ideological positioning of family farming and within a dominant rhetoric of rural/local. Since the formation of the Irish State, policy and discourse has centred on the family farm as a critical element of the agrarian dream and maintaining economic activity in rural areas. It now seems that the countervailing realities of valorising an agrarian identity, of which the ideal of the family farm stands as a proxy, is juxtaposed with the reality of intensified regimes of production under the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) agenda. In its current guise, horticulture has emerged as a diversification strategy within mainstream farming, operating without CAP-imposed quota restrictions and without price subsidies. Yet growers are under pressure, at the vanguard of production, because they are producing in a free market situation, largely targeting the domestic market.

Change to the structure of the retail market in the late 1990s was coterminous with the emergence of intensification on sites of production and created new opportunities for expansion within horticulture. At the same time, the supply of migrant workers to horticulture following a managed migration policy by the state has been a key facilitator of expansion within the industry in recent years. A dilemma arises though in trying to reconcile an industry under pressure from competitive forces and the drive towards keeping costs low, with labour articulated as one of the key challenges for future survival. In that regard, migrant labour has arguably acted as an industry subsidy in lieu of direct price subsidies. Importantly, horticulture is an industry without a continuous production pattern: it, therefore, provides a challenge in maintaining a consistent short-term labour supply for the growers. At the same time, the impermanent nature of horticultural production has direct implications for the reproduction of transnational family units and their ability to maintain family integrity. The precarity inherent in producing horticultural commodities, in turn, can contribute to a precarious transnational existence for the workforce, though one in which strategies of agency and choice still feature. Using ethnographic methodology, this thesis examines the social relations that exist between and amongst retailers, growers and workers along the horticultural supply chain.