Farm Ireland

Sunday 23 October 2016

'Over 50pc of our costs on the fruit farm are down to labour'

My week: Eamonn Crean, Ballinavarry, Co Wexford, fruit and dairy farmer

Ken Whelan

Published 27/04/2016 | 02:30

Fruit and dairy farmer Eamonn Crean.
Fruit and dairy farmer Eamonn Crean.

The bees are buzzing 'like mad' in Eamonn Crean's tunnels in Co Wexford and the fruits of their labours will be lifted, boxed and on the supermarket shelves over the next few weeks.

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"I use an Irish breed of bumble bees and they are pollinating away in the tunnels," explains Eamonn.

Eamonn, who also runs a 165 strong herd of Jerseys on his 220ac farm at Ballinavarry near Davidstown end of the county, sees the 20ac sectioned off expanse of fruit tunnels as part of a family tradition going back three generations.

His grandfather on his mother's side, Tom English, was one of the first Wexford farmers to supply strawberries to the Chivers jam factory in Enniscorthy while his son Paddy operated a 100ac fruit farm in his time.

His company, Greenhills, now supplies strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and other berry varieties to local shops and supermarket chains in the general Leinster region.

It's a very labour intensive operation.

"Over 50pc of our costs are labour. There is no big machinery involved with the fruit tunnels and no big government grants to ease the burden of running the tunnels. Just hard work," says Eamonn.

"Not only are people buying top class fruit and berries but they can be assured that for every €20 they spend, half is going to pay for labour," he adds.

About 70 fruit pickers from Poland and Romania should be in Davidstown next week and then they will be picking flat out until October saving the various crop rotations.

The Greenhills company recruit directly. "I don't like using the recruitment agencies in England.

"I don't like the percentages they take from the fruit pickers," says Eamonn.

His company pay the national minimum wage together with the costs of transportation and accommodation for the fruit pickers.

"Irish people are not interested in this work. They used to come for a week or 10 days and then pack it in. They are just not interested in it now."

The past two growing seasons in Wexford have been good.

Yet this has to be marked against the previous two poor seasons and the level of imports into the Irish market, explains Eamonn.

He is not particularly enamoured with the Dutch who quickly export what they can't sell on their own fresh food markets to other European markets. Eamonn calls it produce dumping.

On the dairy side Eamonn employs a farm manager and a team of farm workers to produce what he likes to call "1,500 gallons per Jersey per year for Glanbia".

"We have a very good manager on the dairy farm from Donegal. The team are hard working and very reliable."

He has what he describes as a good herd and takes the available advice from the experts in Teagasc and elsewhere.

"I do what I am told and I get on with the job".

Both Eamonn and his wife Deirdre along with the girls - Annalise (16), Mairead (15), Aobhinn(12), Sadbh (9) and Abigail ( 7) are still celebrating the arrival of new baby, Edmund, just before Christmas.

"A boy for the girls and another name for the overdraft," Eamonn jokes.

So I inevitably have to ask which of the two farming enterprises is the most profitable and am answered with a typically low key quip from the multi- tasker.

"You could go broke overnight in the fruit business but then again that could happen in the dairy business the way things are going at the moment."

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