John B Dockrell has been growing horticultural crops since 1976. Famous for its vibrant and tasty carrots and lettuce, the family-owned grower based outside Enniscorthy in Co. Wexford currently features in Tesco’s ‘Food Love Stories’ campaign which has made its long-time Farm Manager Paul Doran a familiar face on our TV screens.
As one of Tesco’s biggest carrot growers – supplying much of the stock customers see on shelves – the ad focuses on Paul, whose knowledge of his crop ensures all carrots are grown in the best soil with optimum moisture levels needed to produce the very sweetest carrots which ultimately make their way to dinner tables across Ireland daily.
Cathal Deavy of Tesco Ireland said: “Through our ‘Food Love Stories’ campaign, we’re delighted to showcase the quality of our food and to celebrate our Irish suppliers. Dockrells has been our supplier for a long time and it’s a relationship that we are hugely proud of. Farm manager Paul Doran has spent 30 years perfecting their produce for our customers and we pay tribute to him and the team at Dockrells.”
Dockrells have been delighted with the feedback to the campaign which highlights Wexford as the ideal place to grow carrots with its sandy soil and undulating land. The company also grows carrots in Carlow and propagates lettuce in Dublin. Its land base is spread over these three counties principally for the soil, risk spread and availability reasons. In general, horticulture crops require lighter, better-drained soils that heat up earlier in the season.
Dockrells produce and supply quality fresh carrots and lettuce to all the main multiples and wholesale markets. All their crops are grown outdoors, with glasshouse only used for propagating lettuce at their Donabate base in North Co. Dublin. They have won many accolades down through the years and are audited by BRC, Tesco and Bord Bia. The awards received reflect well on the whole team.
Owner John Dockrell – who is a former chairman of the IFA Vegetable Growers Committee – is also joined in the business by Packhouse Manager Jackie Tighe, Salad Manager Johan Van Heerden and 35 full-time staff. The company has continued to operate, despite the huge challenges posed by Covid-19 and Brexit.
“It was very much a case of business as usual,” Jackie says of the pandemic.
“Our staff were excellent. All orders were filled on time, and nothing was missed. Neither production nor distribution were affected. We adhered to all Covid guidelines and put strict measures in place. We installed hand sanitiser dispensers, temperature checks, staggered breaks, upgraded all our field facilities and installed protective screens at our grading stations. All our seasonal staff, who are mostly from Europe, were quarantined on arrival in Ireland and that continues to be the case.
“Nothing was left to chance. Brexit has also been quite challenging from the point of view that it has led to some delays in securing parts for our machinery. We now have to stock more spare parts for that inevitable breakdown, but overall, we are learning to live with Covid and Brexit.”
Jackie reports how sales of carrots and lettuce were maintained during the pandemic.
“While the wholesale and restaurant sector took a big hit, this was compensated by the increased demand for our produce in supermarkets and shops,” she reveals.
There is no such thing as a quiet time of the year for Dockrells who plant, harvest, wash, grade and pack their produce with the aim of delivering a quality consistent product to the market. When it comes to carrots, the main varieties grown are early season and Nairobi (second early / main crop). They also grow purple carrots which are popular at Christmas time. Iceberg and Little Gem are the main lettuce varieties grown.
“We grow carrots in Wexford and in Carlow,” Paul Doran says.
“Our growing season typically runs from early July to April of the following year. We start the season with carrots covered with poly / fleece and then open ground. All the winter carrots are covered with straw to protect them from frost. Due to the quantity used and the cost of straw, this is a very expensive option, however in keeping with our goal of having the best quality carrots for our customers we believe this is required.
“The lettuce is managed by Johan Van Heerden, who has a wealth of experience in horticulture and is applying this experience to growing salads. We start sowing from January, planting from March, and harvesting from May to October. We pay particular attention to the crops’ nutrition and this helps to maintain the quality and taste of the crop.
“Most of the lettuce is packed on a rig in the field. The lettuce we grow outdoors is all grown here in Wexford. All the iceberg lettuce supplied by Dockrells is vacuum-cooled to ensure the shelf life is as good as it possibly can be.”
The company has an array of machinery to plant and harvest its crops, and is constantly reinvesting in the latest technology to ensure a quality product and service.
“We run mainly Valtra tractors with good backup service from Kilkenny Farm Machinery. We also have invested in GPS systems for our tractors and machinery, this is to complement our 3-bed cultivation system. We use Grimme harvesters and a wide range of other machinery, equipment and irrigation systems. We’re practically self-sufficient and our up-to-date equipment allows us to practice precision farming,” Paul says.
The increase in healthy eating and exercise since lockdown has been good for business at Dockrells. However, according to John Dockrell, in his 45 years of farming, he has never seen the level of input cost inflation that we are experiencing now. It is his view that this must be treated as a crisis, as many growers are struggling and there is no money for investment. He maintains we all should be concerned about the future of the horticulture industry in Ireland and the availability of quality Irish produce.
Dockrells would like to take this opportunity to thank their customers and suppliers for their continued support, and their staff for their hard work, dedication, and expertise.
John B Dockrell
Phone:053 91 27510.
First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 10 No 1, January/February 2022