Farm Ireland
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Saturday 17 November 2018

‘I’ve lost acres of strawberries to this weather' - Farmer says he's lost €200,000 worth of fruit in the recent conditions

Jimmy Kearns with some of the strawberries from his farm.
Jimmy Kearns with some of the strawberries from his farm.

Anna Hayes

While hot weather has been welcomed by many, it has meant havoc for fruit growers and, in particular, has had a hugely detrimental effect on a Wexford favourite – the strawberry.

With temperatures remaining in the mid to high 20s for the past number of weeks, strawberry plants have suffered and growers are struggling to get fruit picked before it spoils.

Jimmy Kearns, of Kearns Fruit Farm in Curraghgraigue, Enniscorthy, told the Wexford People that the weather, although pleasant for many, was a disaster for strawberries, explaining the berries were ripening too quickly and had no great size when they did.

He said it was taking three times as long as usual to pick the fruit.

“It’s just too hot. The ideal temperature for strawberries is about 18 or 19 degrees. If you hit high temperatures for long periods of time, the plant goes into distress and it just won’t grow any more.”

He explained that he had to abandon about eight acres of fruit – around 140,000 plants – in favour of berries that were easier and quicker to pick.

In total, he believes he has lost around €200,000 worth of fruit in the recent conditions.

The summer strawberry picking season normally lasts about five to six weeks but Jimmy said that fruit was ripening too quickly in the conditions and that period was, effectively, being condensed into a two-week picking period which, he said was tough on fruit pickers.

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“The smaller growers are probably not being hit as hard but bigger farms are under pressure. They need three times more staff. We budget for a certain number of pickers each year and you can only hire so many extra.

We’ve had to just let some fruit go and salvage what we can, where we can.

“I’m 50 years in this business and I’ve never seen anything like this – I never thought I’d be looking for rain!”

The farm, he said, had all of the mod cons but nothing could combat the heat. Glass houses, where strawberries are grown throughout the year, are too hot for pickers to work in despite ventilation systems. He recorded a temperature of 33 degrees with stifling humidity on one day, he pointed out.

The conditions, he pointed out, were brilliant until about three weeks ago but he said Ireland faced a serious fruit shortage if the temperatures remained the same.

“The heat has its ups and downs. The sales have been great because of it but if this keeps up for another month, there’ll be devastation for the following two months. Most farmers are growing from April to Novbember but these are the few months that you make your money in.”

Sourcing water, he said, would become an issue if the warm weather continued as well. As it stands, five bore holes are pumping thousands of gallons of water per day but Jimmy says he doesn’t know the level of the water table. The fruit, he said, was absorbing all of the water.

“We’re using more than double the usual amount of water we’d use.’

He added that farmers had had a really bad year, pointing out that Hurricane Ophelia, in particular, had hammered his farm while the snow in March brought further difficulties.

The team at Kearns were, he said, working 16-hour days, seven days a week to try to counteract the difficulties experienced.

Despite the difficulties, however, he said that you couldn’t get disheartened by the situation: “We’re used to taking hits. It’s a tough business but we’ll ride out the storm, do what we can and dig in until the end of November. If we lose heart, everyone working here will. We just have to plough on and hope that next month will be better.”

Wexford People

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