Stephen Hatton is renowned for the high quality of his potatoes. However, Hatton Potatoes aren’t the only top-class products grown on the Wexford man’s substantial farm. It’s very much a mixed farm, with cereals also to the fore as well as, more recently, Christmas trees. We visited Enniscorthy to take a closer look at this impressive operation.
In addition to 450 acres approximately of mixed variety potatoes, Stephen Hatton also farms some 850 acres of cereal and is currently growing 125,000 Christmas trees. His is a busy operation but the amiable Wexford man still found time to let us have a quick look around his farm in Enniscorthy, County Wexford.
Stephen started growing potatoes when he was 19. That was 32 years ago, so he is a master of his craft at this stage! “My late father, Alfie, had a farm and he did corn and feed,” reflects the man who established Eden Farms as a limited company a decade ago. “I came home from Gurteen Agricultural College and started off with about two-and-a-half acres of potatoes and built it up from there.
“I grew it gradually – six acres, then eight, then ten, Today, I have 450 acres of potatoes and I’ve been growing between 400 and 450 consistently for seven or eight years now.” Two-hundred acres of this is Stephen’s own land; the other 250 is rented.”
When you add in the 850 acres of cereal it becomes clear that this is an extremely busy set-up. But fortunately Stephen has plenty of help at hand. His wife Marina and son Henry provide vital back-up, while gainful employment is also provided for three additional full-time personnel as well as seasonal staff.
And then there’s the Christmas trees… “There are 125,000 trees there at the minute. We’ll start harvesting those later this year. The first batch of them will have been in the ground for seven years by then,” Stephen explains. There’s a slight risk involved – as well as a substantial investment of time and money – but this departure epitomises the spirit of adventure that has got Stephen Hatton to where he is today.
Returning to the spuds, Hatton Potatoes produces 55 acres of the specialist Lady Jo variety for Largo Food in Ashbourne, County Meath (who make Tayto crisps) plus 300 acres of Roosters which are sold to packers nationwide including Country Crest, O’Shea Farms, KK Produce, Dennigans in Dublin and Glens of Antrim as well as assorted shops and wholesalers and the markets in Dublin. On top of this, Stephen grows around 25 acres of Golden Wonder, 25 acres of Kerr Pinks and up to 50 acres of Queens.
With on-site storage capacity for 4,500 tonnes, Stephen’s farm is kept ticking over all year around. He operates six tractors – five Fendts and one John Deere – as well as a combine harvester, two de-stoners and all the other machinery required to keep everything running independently, smoothly and efficiently. While contractors are used for some of the barley and straw, all other work is done in-house. “We do all our own ploughing, sowing, pressing, cutting and spraying and are completely self-sufficient when it comes to potatoes,” Stephen adds.
In terms of cereal, Hattons grow mostly spring barley, winter barley and spring rapeseed. “We do about 100 acres of rape, 70 acres of winter wheat, 60 acres of winter oats, 200 acres of winter barley and the rest would be spring barley. The seed corn is grown for Connollys of Goresbridge in Carlow, while the grain goes to John Cullen Grain and Glanbia.”
Of course, it is not all plain sailing on a farm of this scale. Far from it, in fact! Margins are tight and it takes a lot of hard work, expertise and determination to turn a profit. When overheads remain almost prohibitively high, greater efficiencies must be sought out to ensure that the business remains profitable. This is an ongoing battle – and a difficult one to win.
“It can be very tough,” says Stephen. “Undoubtedly the greatest difficulties we have encountered in recent times have been caused by fuel prices. At one stage, it was costing us €100,000 a week in spring time between green and white diesel, which is a massive cost. It has come back a bit now but the price of diesel is still leaving us under pressure.
“The poor grain prices this year also presented problems. The yields were very good, so the prices were bad, which meant that it was very hard to make any money on the grain.” The irony is cruel but that’s how the marketplace operates: some years, high-quality grain is worth a lot less than other years…
Looking to the future, Stephen Hatton intends to keep producing the excellent range of potatoes and cereals for which he has become renowned, while his venture into Christmas trees will finally start to come to fruition next winter:
“We will keep doing what we are doing and – if at all possible – we will try to do it even better,” he concludes. “The Christmas trees will be a new thing for us this year and we will be harvesting them ourselves. That venture is in conjunction with Porter Christmas Trees in Carnew, County Wicklow and all of the trees will be heading for the export market.
“We’ll be taking the first round of trees out of the ground this year and hope to keep planting 30,000 a year every year from now on. It’s something new and we’re hoping it will go well.”
Judging by Stephen Hatton’s impressive track record to date, this could be yet another winner!
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Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 3 No 2, March 2015