When it comes to growing vegetables for a living, there is a lot that needs to go right, most of which can be dictated by the grower themselves. However, one thing none of us can do anything about is the Irish weather.
Unpredictable is probably the best adjective to describe the weather on the Emerald Isle, especially with what we saw in the summer of 2018, when weeks of endless sunshine was met with glee by the masses, but not so by the agricultural and horticultural industries who suffered greatly due to the lack of growth.
Family run business GDL Harford was one of those businesses affected by the summer drought and Denis Harford told Irish Tractor that they are still recovering from the dry spell.
“It really did hit us hard and came at a great expense as we were forced to upgrade our water system. As someone said to me, ‘the barley was that short, the Sparrows had to get on one knee to get to it’,” said Denis.
“We are at the mercy of the weather and you have to deal with it accordingly, but I think a lot of farmers and harvesters were caught out by last year’s drought.
“This year has been better so far, but we only have the first plant done. We’ve introduced a ridge system to help make greater use of the water that we have.”
The Harford family have been involved in harvesting crops for many years supplying a wide range of vegetables including cauliflowers, broccoli, leeks, celeriac, celery, cabbage and parsnips.
Denis revealed that another issue in the industry at the moment is the lack of labour available to them, which has forced them to reduce the acreage they have been harvesting.
“We have to decrease the acreage as there is a shortage of labour and it is the same with all the growers. We had a couple of foreign nationals with us for 12 years, but they have returned home as have a lot of their colleagues as work is more plentiful in their own countries now.”
All GDL’s customers are in Ireland and thus Denis has no real concerns over Brexit at the moment, but he admits that could all change.
“I don’t think it will affect us too much unless the sterling becomes weaker and more products are imported from the U.K. It is hard to know what is going to happen, to be honest, I don’t think the decision makers even know how it will turn out.”
Despite the setbacks of the last 12 months, Denis revealed that they are happy with the direction of the business and stressed that they are continuously investing in the business.
“The shortage of labour is our only real issue. Last year’s weather obviously affected us, but you just have to take the bad with the good and move on. We are always investing in the business, it is essential to do so in these parts are there are a lot of growers in the one area.”
Lusk is renowned for its fertile soil and the home of vegetable growing in Ireland, a statistic that Denis puts down to the land they work on.
“Good soil is key to a good crop, so before we plant any of our crops we test the soil to see what nutrients it contains. We then add any nutrients to the soil that it is lacking in, in order to ensure our crops get all the nutrients they require. After all, a happy crop is a healthy crop and as a farmer, there is no better feeling than to produce a good quality crop that people enjoy eating.”
Denis revealed that they take great pride in the vegetables that they provide and only the best quality food will leave the yard, while freshness is of the utmost importance to them. Any vegetable harvested will be with the wholesaler in no time.
“I’m very proud of the produce we grow and we work endlessly to ensure we provide our customers with the freshest produce we can, as quick as we can, from the field to your plate. That’s about as fresh as it gets!”
The team that Denis and his brothers Ger and Lorcan have are very experienced and given that they are working against the clock, everything has to be done meticulously.
“Many of the lads who are here are here for years and they are very experienced at what they do. Everyone knows their role and it works well for us. There are huge time constraints in this industry and everything has to work well.”
Denis concluded by stating that they are hoping for a more favourable summer this year as they look to continue supplying the best of crops to their ever-satisfied customers.
“Yes, of course we would like to see the weather on our side, but we have experienced it all down through the years, so it is just a case of getting on with it and ensuring our customers are satisfied.”
Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 7 No 3, June/July 2019