Ornamental horticulture production is made up mainly of family run businesses producing trees, plants, bulbs, flowers and foliage, mainly for sale in the domestic market. In Ireland, production varies between in the ground or containers, as field crops or in greenhouses. As a perishable product, ornamental horticulture requires ongoing husbandry and maintenance (including watering, feeding, crop protection and environmental controls).
The sector employs over 1,300 people with most enterprises based in the East, South East and South of the Country. The ornamental sector grew rapidly during the Celtic tiger years, driven by a building boom and strong consumer spend which was then impacted negatively by the financial crash in 2008. The value of the plant segment of the retail gardening market contracted (from €326m in 2007 to €201m by 2012) as did the value of the commercial landscaping market which is a key outlet for plant sales.
Since then as the economy slowly recovered and the construction sector re-booted the ornamental sector has benefited which is visible through additional output and increased investment in growing structures, packing facilities and increased mechanisation across the sector.
Early stage of development
In an EU context Ireland’s ornamental sector is considered modest in scale and relatively young where we are now seeing a second generation of skilled entrants coming into the sector. While Ireland does not have the scale, access to cheaper inputs and local mass markets as other international players it has a number of opportunities to develop and grow further.
Market value of ornamental horticulture
The ultimate destination for the crop is mainly the Irish market, with the main retail sales channels being garden centres, DIY stores, CoOp garden centres and supermarkets. The retail value of the total gardening market in Ireland in 2018 was €795m (of which €282m was spent on plant/flower sales). The other main channel for the products are County Councils/Local Authorities and commercial landscaping projects with an estimated value in 2019 of €250 Million. Export channels are to the UK, and to a lesser degree to Europe. In 2019 the total value of exports reached €18.5 million.
While COVID-19 may continue to cast a shadow over all business in the short term there will be some opportunities. The sector is well positioned to take advantage in such areas as import substitution of certain lines that can be grown locally plus plant innovation and development of new varieties (both for ornamental and food ingredients use with associated health benefits). The high plant health status of Ireland driven by our Island status and export opportunities to the UK/EU supported by relationships developed over many years in key market channels. Sustainability and enhancing the environment will continue to be a key focus and this sector can provide and facilitate many of the solutions as the EU ambition for land use in its Farm to Fork strategy has a strong ambition for more plant based land use.