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Friday 14 December 2018

Could Christmas be ruined? Farmers warn of possible sprout shortages

Freshly grown brussel sprouts on display at a farmer's market.
Freshly grown brussel sprouts on display at a farmer's market.
Catherine Hurley

Catherine Hurley

Fears that Irish people would have to eat their Christmas dinner without home-grown Brussels sprouts this year have been confirmed by growers around the country.

Vegetable grower Paudie Hanafin from Ballygarron Farm said that his crop of Brussels sprouts is back by 60pc compared to the same time last year.

The crop of sprouts currently stands a foot shorter compared to the same time last year and the lower height of the crop will reduce yields at harvest time, according to growers.

And while demand for Brussels sprouts surges as Christmas looms, there are increasing worries already that the demand won't be met by Irish produce.

This year’s crop has endured an unusually dry summer, which saw parts of the country go without rain for the majority of the summer and with this came more problems.

Diamondback moth is a pest that feeds off all brassica plant and has done a lot of damage of to Paudie’s crop of sprouts this year.

“It’s really taking a toll on this year’s crop,” said Paudie who runs Ballygarron Farm vegetable business with his wife Mary in The Spa, Tralee, Co. Kerry.

Paudie and his family have grown Brussels sprouts for the past three years and planted 30 acres of the crop to be harvested for this coming Christmas.

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The damage caused to the crop of brussels sprouts on Paudie's farm means that he’ll have to cut further up the plant to avoid the problem areas, losing out on potential yield in the process.

“We’ll have to cut a foot above the ground this year, we normally only cut about 4 inches above,” said the Kerry farmer.

Paudie explained that he took every precaution to protect the crop this year, even irrigating the sprouts three times throughout the drought wasn’t enough to stop the damage caused by the severe temperatures and lack of rain. “I’m sure that 99.9pc of the damage to this year’s crops were caused by the drought,” said Paudie.

The Hanafins grow many types of vegetables on their farm and are seeing a huge set back on the yields across all their crops. “Broccoli and cauliflower were a write off this year, we kept waiting for the rain, but it was too late when it did,” he said. “It would make you think twice about growing in the future,” said Paudie.

This year’s crop is significantly shorter than it should be, and yield could be hurt according to Teagasc Vegetable Specialist Stephen Alexander.

“It’s hard to tell the real damage. Yes they’re back a bit from last year, but they should be able to make up the difference in the coming months,” he said.

“Lack of rain this year was causing the problems but won’t be a problem for the rest of the season,” he said.

One of the largest growers in the country Enda Weldon, who farms in Balheary, Co. Dublin with his brother Anthony, said that he is hopeful that his crop will recover from the damages caused by three months without rain.

“There’s a long season, usually 6-8 months involved growing sprouts, so there’s still enough time for them to make a good recovery,” he said.

“We irrigated all the crops through the drought, but it was only keeping them alive, it wasn’t driving them on,” he said. “There was a lot of damage done to the crop, there’s no doubt about that, they’re back a lot but I’ve seen sprouts make a good recovery, even in the worst of year,” said Enda.

“We have all the right conditions at the moment for them, ground temperatures, rain and nutrients, we just have to give them a bit more time,” said the North Co Dublin farmer.

He added that the true damage to the crop will only show at the end of October, start of November, “we can start worrying about the Christmas dinner then,” he said.

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