Chances are that if you have eaten scallions bought in a supermarket recently, they were grown by Paul Carroll. These past few months, he has started work at 6am and finished at about 7.30pm. He has 100 people working in his fields during the harvest at his farm in Lusk, Co Dublin, with another 50 to come on soon.
In peak season, he can supply up to 500,000 bunches of scallions a week to Irish supermarkets.
The numbers are remarkable, but Carroll is exceptional for another reason: he is Ireland's last commercial scallion farmer.
On the surface, the Irish vegetable industry looks healthy, with consistent production and rising employment, but it is increasingly dominated by a handful of growers.
Commercial cucumbers are supplied by two producers; tomatoes by about six.
As growers leave, their market share is sometimes taken over by their Irish peers, but not always. If you're not eating scallions from Lusk, then they are probably from Egypt or Mexico.
When Carroll started after leaving school, he was one of a dozen or so scallion farmers in the country. The past couple of years there have been three. Now there is one.
"It's an incredibly labour-intensive business. The crop we are harvesting now was sown last August. In between there's work weeding. You harvest by hand again," he says.
"The cost of growing and labour is forever increasing, but the price returned to us stays the same - if you're doing things by the book, like I am. The margins are tight."
It's a similar story for tomatoes.
Matt Foley grows between two-and-a-half and three hectares of tomatoes. Every hectare of glasshouse needs 10 staff. He sells to Irish supermarkets, but his main competition is Dutch tomatoes. Dutch growers have cheaper energy costs with the economies of scale provided by 10,000 hectares of tomatoes; Ireland has fewer than 100.
On freshness though, domestic produce outclasses the competition. Here, producers fill orders every day. The order comes in at 7am, the truck arrives by about midday to take the product to the supermarket. Imports can wait for six or seven days before getting on shelves.
Ours is a healthy market for fresh produce, currently valued at €1.6bn, up from €1.4bn in 2015, according to Kantar, the market research company. In addition, the €400m food service market had grown in value before the Covid-19 pandemic but is supplied largely by imports.
As the market grows, grower numbers shrink and the knowledge required to provide fresh produce is lost. The 2015 Field Vegetable Census counted 165 growers in 2014, down from 377 in 1999, and 212 in 2008.
Why are producers and their offspring turning away? Because the nature of the business is precarious. There are no long-term contracts. Growers take on all the risk, and annually negotiated margins are too tight to account for the vagaries of climate and other business risks, not to mention the impact of a global pandemic. The costs are constantly rising but grower income rarely changes because of pressure from imports.
Producers sound weary of low prices and, in particular, supermarket 'specials'. The impact of these is acknowledged by Bord Bia.
"The biggest change in price has occurred around the nature of promotions," says a spokesperson for the agency. "Historically, promotions coincided with peak Irish seasonal supply periods. Nowadays, promotions in the fresh produce category are continuous and most retailers have 'end of aisle' fresh produce promotions. This has resulted in the lowering of average prices."
Then there are imports. "Growers in other countries are always looking for market export opportunities and many of them are operating off a much larger scale of production, often with better growing conditions, such as better weather, and cheaper labour costs," says the Bord Bia spokesperson.
According to the Consumer Price Index, in January 2012 a 2.5kg bag of potatoes sold for €3.07. In February of this year, it cost €3.54, an increase of just over 15pc.
Producers point out that this is not just a case of 'grower versus supermarket'. Other policies have an impact. In the same period, the minimum wage has increased from €8.65 to €10.10 an hour.
The question remains: are we willing to pay more for Irish food?
Carroll says the price of a bunch of scallions has fallen by roughly 10c over five years. A 5c increase would secure the future of his business. Would we pay it?
There are indications that we would. In an October 2019 survey, 65pc of people agreed food of Irish origin was worth paying a little more for.
Supermarkets will point to 'consumer sentiment' when it comes to bearing price increases. But does that argument really hold up?
"The most important misconception is that the fruit and veg needs have to be met by fresh food. All different types count, especially frozen, which has a superb nutritional content. Tinned food counts also," says Dr Marian O'Reilly, chief nutritionist at Safefood, the all-island healthy-eating agency.
She says many factors influence food choice, not just price. "There is fear of waste and there can be intergenerational loss in terms of food and cooking skills," she says.
According to 2018 Safefood data, 19pc of the average family grocery shop was spent on treats such as crisps, chocolate and sweets, compared with 7pc on vegetables.
"Nobody wants to see below-cost selling and an unsustainable food production system. In terms of controlling what's on our shelves, there's very few players and they do have a lot of control," says Dr O'Reilly.
So what's the solution?
There are calls for more regulation and oversight; some point to the UK's Groceries Code Adjudicator. Certainly, there is space for an advertising campaign urging Irish consumers to buy their own country's produce, but also potentially more investment in research and development into the horticulture industry, as is the case with beef and dairy.
Patrick Farrell, the Irish Farmers' Association's horticulture executive, says current margins threaten the sustainability of the domestic supply.
"You lose the people, you lose the skills," he says. "That's why we're pushing for the implementation of the [EU's] UTP (Unfair Trading Practices) regulations and an end to below-cost selling."
Fianna Fáil scrapped the Groceries Order, which prohibited the practice in 2006, calling it an important day for consumers.
Brian Stanley, Sinn Féin's agriculture and food spokesman, says that regulation could be introduced without distorting the market.
"The market has become skewed with the power of the multiples. It's very, very difficult to supply into supermarkets and make a reasonable margin. Where there are constant promotions, local suppliers get squeezed out," he says.
There is a cost to losing our growers, not least for long-term food security.
As Farrell says: "Once these Irish producers are gone, they're not coming back."