There was double delight for Hughes Farming Ltd at the Kilkenny Business Awards on Saturday, November 17 last when the dynamic crop and vegetable grower scooped the Agri Business of the Year and Overall Business of the Year Awards.
Over 500 guests attended the Awards which were hosted by RTE personality Mary Kennedy and acknowledge the outstanding achievements of Kilkenny’s business sector. Julian Hughes, whose company employs 41 people in Kells, says winning the two Awards (the Agri Business Award was sponsored by FBD) was a great way to end what had been a very challenging year for growers.
“We had a fantastic night,” he says of the gala event which is run annually by Kilkenny Chamber of Commerce.
“It was gratifying to be among the winners after the year we had. The extreme winter and summer weather made it a difficult 12 months for us, but we got through it and our staff deserve huge credit for that. It was a real team effort and the awards are great recognition for us and what we do.
“I would also like to take the opportunity to thank AIB for nominating us. There was an interview process involved and we must have made a good impression on the judging panel. We wouldn’t have been in the running if AIB hadn’t put our name forward.”
Hughes Farming is a root crop, vegetable and cereals operation based about 15km south of Kilkenny city. The farm consists of 700 acres of crops, including carrots, parsnips, pumpkins, cereals, lettuce, flower bulbs, onions and grassland.
“We grow 180 acres of carrots and parsnips, 100 acres of pumpkins, 100 acres of daffodils and 75 acres of iceberg lettuce. We also grew 150 acres of spring and winter cereals in 2018 which will increase to 200 acres this year,” explains the 34-year-old managing director.
“The land we use is predominantly leased. We sow, harvest and pack the products ourselves and take on additional staff at peak times. Our crops and cereals are produced for domestic and export supply with the majority of the produce processed and packed on site before distribution to the major retailers in conjunction with the Begley Fresh Produce Group. A large portion of the carrot crop is supplied to O’Shea Farms in Piltown also.”
From humble beginnings in 1990 when Julian’s father John – who is still involved in the day-to-day running of the business – started growing daffodils, Hughes Farming has become one of the largest vegetable and crop growers in the south-east region. The Hughes’ started producing carrots in 2008 when Julian was doing a Masters Degree in Crop Protection in the UK. He was awarded a Nuffield Scholarship in 2010 for researching innovation and technology in the major crop regions of the world. In addition to this, Julian was involved in getting broad-acre fund-based projects up-and-running in Africa and Eastern Europe.
A regular contributor to the Farmers Journal, Julian runs an impressive fleet of modern equipment, ranging from tractors, sprayers and destoners to root harvesters, crop chaser bins and other similar machines. The tractors which he operates are Fendt 828, Fendt 716, John Deere 6230R, Deutz-Fahr 140 Agrotron, Deutz-Fahr DX606 and Deutz-Fahr DX451.
“We bought the John Deere last year (2018) and it offers us something a little bit different. The horsepower is similar to the Fendt 828. They are both excellent tractors I have to say,” Julian continues.
“Our sprayer is a Bateman RB35 which is 32 metres wide. When it comes to servicing and maintenance, machines that are in warranty are dealer serviced, while those out of warranty are serviced inhouse. We bought our new John Deere from Comerford’s TFM (Templetuohy Farm Machinery) in Ballycallan and have a good relationship with the other main dealers we deal with.”
Julian is full of praise for his field operations team whose duties include root harvest operation, root chaser bin operation, spraying and irrigation, cultivations and planting as well as maintenance. Hughes Farming also enlist the services of local agricultural contractors, Aidan and Andre Martin and Hughes Bros (Danville) on a regular basis.
Hughes Farming has embraced modern technology in a big way with Julian noting: “We use a lot of precision technology and have RTK in most of our tractors with telemetry functions as part of the GPS units. We’re adding implement steer to our destoners and other machines to ensure everything is laser accurate. We also use soil scanning, NDVI crop aerial imaging and other precision technology.”
Julian is a member of the Potato, Field Vegetable and Protected Crops Committee which is part of the IFA Horticulture Committee. The Committee’s most important issues pertain to commodity prices, input costs, producers’ incomes, retailer activity, industry developments and the Bord Bia Quality Assurance Scheme.
“The IFA Horticulture Committee is an important voice for potato, vegetable, fruit, mushroom and nursery stock growers. Without it, we would have no representation at national or EU level.”
Perhaps Julian’s greatest achievement to date has been winning his cancer battle. In 2015, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. But with the support of his wife Valerie and parents John and Geraldine, he beat the illness.
“I got the all-clear in January 2016,” he fondly remembers.
“No sooner had I been diagnosed than Valerie and I found out we were expecting our first child. That made me even more determined to get through it.
“I did four cycles of chemotherapy, each three weeks in duration. Within that, I had five very intensive days on a pump 24 hours a day, with a couple of days off. It was tough going, especially when you’re trying to run a business at the same time. There were days where I had a needle stuck in one arm pumping chemo and I was making phone calls and sending emails with the other hand. I beat cancer thanks to the support of my family and the fact that I was young and healthy.”
Julian received the all-clear just days before the birth of his now three-year-old girl Robyn. Julian and Valerie have since welcomed another addition, Billy, to the family. With Hughes Farming going from strength to strength, the future has never looked brighter for this particular Kilkenny Cat!
Hughes Farming Ltd
Telephone: 086 8134336
Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 7 No 1, February/March 2019