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Sunday 20 January 2019

Meet the farmer with 40,000 apple trees

Con Traas in the orchard on the farm.
Con Traas in the orchard on the farm.

Ken Whelan

Producing 5m apples a year is no easy task but it is the norm at Con Traas’s 60ac farm at Moorestown near Cahir in south Tipperary.

The production statistics at The Apple Farm are fascinating, with each of its 40,000 trees producing between 100 and 125 apples each season.

Fifteen apple varieties, from Cox’s Pippins to cooking varieties like Bramley, are grown at the enterprise and sold to established bakeries in Tipperary and Limerick, with about a third of the apples going to “regular customers and callers to the farm shop”.

More recently, the enterprise has linked up with the Dunnes Stores, where the apples are marketed under the Grá fruit range.

Equally fascinating are the statistics behind the other fruits produced on the farm: two acres of strawberries growing six tonnes per acre; raspberries on three-quarters of an acre producing four tonnes; a half-acre of cherries yielding one tonne; and the three-acre plum plot producing a harvest of 15t.

Asked which of farm’s fruits are the most profitable, Con points to the cherries which he says were getting “€10 a kilo this year — nearly as good as producing beef”.

He adds that there is future horticultural work to be done on the cherry plot.

Overall, it has been a good year for the fruit at The Apple Farm, with all the fruits thriving apart from the plums, which suffered during the Arctic spell earlier this year and fell victim to every hungry bird around Cahir just before the crop could take off.

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The farm was bought by Con’s parents William and Ali Traas when they moved here from Holland some 50 years ago. They purchased the land from a local electrician, Tommy Sampson, who was emigrating to Canada. “Both families have done well ever since,” says Con.

Back then, the Traas family developed a tillage enterprise along with dried peas, tulips and seed crops, but gradually, over the years, the holding was transformed into a fruit enterprise. Con (50) took over the management of the farm in the 1990s when he completed his university studies in biology and horticulture at the UCD.

The farm employs 20 people, including a full-time horticulturist. Many are from Poland and the Czech Republic and have settled down in the area and are raising their families here.

“Every one of them is needed, especially at harvest time,” says Con.

He is married to Trina, an assistant principal at a primary school in Clonmel, and they have three children — Daniel (19), a food science student at UCD, and Ella (17) and David (14), who are at school locally.

“The children take an interest in the farm, but it is too early to say which of them is most interested in running the enterprise,” says Con.

Con also works off farm as a part-time lecturer in plant physiology, horticulture and biology at the University of Limerick; between the farm and the university, his time is precious.

Asked what his hobbies might be, Con says: “Let’s put it this way, when Trina buys me a Christmas present, it is always a book on science. Between the farm and the university, I have little time for anything else.”

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