‘Cultivating brussels sprouts 18 hours a day won’t ruin my Christmas dinner’

When he sits down to Christmas dinner, Paudie Hanafin will show a great appreciation than most for one of the staple ingredients – brussels sprouts.

A supplier to SuperValu stores; he works long days to produce sprouts, and other vegetables, at his enterprise, Ballygarron Vegetable Farm, located just outside Tralee.

Hanafin worked as a labourer in London from the age of 16; followed by a stint in the Channel Tunnel. He returned to this country to manage a daffodil farm in around 1989. At the end of 1991, he started farming with his late father, John-Joe, and his brother, Gerard.

He now farms a total of 317ac of owned and rented land; with 20ac devoted to brussels sprouts – produced between September and March every year.

He also grows broccoli; cauliflower; swedes and cabbage, which are also supplied to SuperValu and other wholesalers. His wife, Mary, runs a stall at Spa, outside Tralee, on Saturdays; and works full-time in the business.

Grain, which is supplied to Kerry Co-op, accounts for approximately 120ac of the farm; with about 22ac in sugar beet for local dairy farmers. He also rears 40 to 50 calves every year, bringing them to finish.

Sprout management

“There is a lot of management on sprouts which were transplanted to the fields around June 24,” said Hanafin, who worked in partnership with his brother before buying him out.

There is a lot to do as regards pest and disease control. It is a job to keep them growing constantly, you can’t have them too big or too small.

The whole area of vegetable growing is challenging, with a lot of time going into the paper trail, he explained.

Availability of good labour is also an issue.

At Hanafin’s seven full-time staff are employed; with an extra 20 locals taken on in the run up to Christmas. Early starts are also a necessary part of the job.

I get up at 5:00am every morning; the workers start at 5:30am during the summer; but they start at 7:00am this time of the year. The employees finish at 7:00pm, or 8:00pm; I wouldn’t finish up until around 11:00pm.

While dairy farmers are acknowledged as working long hours, Hanafin contends that vegetable growers have it harder.

“The difference is massive. With dairying, the milk is collected for you. You don’t have to transport it or market it; and you don’t have to chase payment” he said.

He highlighted that the vagaries of the Irish weather make farming tough in general.

“I got all my grain and straw in this year – I was just lucky,” he said.

Despite the downsides of farming, Hanafin enjoys the lifestyle. He said he doesn’t miss the “good fun” of the Channel Tunnel too much.

“Farming is a good life in general. You are outside and you are your own boss,” he said.

SuperValu expects a total of 64,000 nets of brussels sprouts to be sold in its stores across the country this year.

So, when it comes to sitting down to his own festive feast, can he relish this vegetable after seeing sprouts for so long? “No problem,” he concluded.

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