Sunny weather a boon to strawberry farmers in Wexford

Ireland’s 100 strawberry growers produce a crop worth €38m at the farm gate

Jimmy Kearns of Kearns Fruit Farm, Curraghgraigue, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, in one of his strawberry fields. Photograph: Mary Browne

Jimmy Kearns of Kearns Fruit Farm, Curraghgraigue, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, in one of his strawberry fields. Photograph: Mary Browne

Sat, Jul 26, 2014, 01:00

They’re working flat out down on Jimmy Kearns’s fruit farm in Wexford trying to keep up with demand for strawberries – demand fuelled in part by the exceptionally sunny weather.

The farm, which includes six acres under glass, allowing for almost year-round production, is currently dispatching daily 400-500 trays, each holding 18, 300g punnets of strawberries. Kearns Fruit Farm supplies a range of supermarkets, including SuperValu, Dunnes and Lidl.

The German discounter confirms demand is high. “We sell an average of 20 tonnes of strawberries per week,” said a spokeswoman. “The good weather over the last few weeks has meant a noticeable increase in fruit sales, especially berries.”

Jimmy Kearns says about 95 per cent of what they grow are strawberries. The remaining 5 per cent is mostly raspberries but the farm also grows some cereals.

The disparity between the two berries comes down to profit margins: while both strawberries and raspberries currently sell wholesale (raspberries for jam, strawberries for the table) for about €5 a kilo, the raspberries are more fragile and labour intensive.

“To pick fresh raspberries for the [retail] market,” says Kearns, “you’d want to be getting at least €10 and €12 a kilo and that’s very hard to get.”

A good year

Despite this, however, “it’s been a good year, good enough”, says Kearns, who has been active for many years on the Irish Farmers’ Association’s fruit committee.

“When you don’t be getting the phone calls, you know everyone is okay! My problem now is that it’s too hot; I’m using fans [in the glasshouses] to keep the temperature down.”

In order to keep production going from May through until November, Kearns’ sow 100,000 new strawberry plants every 10 days, replacing plants on a rolling basis as they reach the end of their natural lives. Most Irish strawberries are of the Elsanta variety – “a nice, fleshy berry,” says Kearns, “hard to grow but people love it.”

The popular roadside berry sellers throughout the southeast are mainly smaller producers. To keep an operation the size of Kearns going, the company employs just under 60 people.

According to IFA president Eddie Downey, strawberry production is a significant contributor to the agri-economy.

“Ireland’s 100 strawberry growers produce a crop worth €38 million at the farm gate, with production expected to reach 8,000 tonnes [eight million kg] this year,” he said in June during National Strawberry Week.

The industry in Ireland competes against the much larger Dutch industry which, according to growers here, regularly “dumps” its surplus production on to the Irish market.