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How Northern Ireland farmers are faring under strains of harvest

By Rachel Martin

Published 04/10/2016

Harvest is one of the most important times of the year for farmers
Harvest is one of the most important times of the year for farmers
Alex Lyttle (right) and his father Roy supply vegetables to Tesco and Avondale Foods
Mash Direct founder Martin Hamilton with a crop of potatoes

Farmers say they have had a better than expected harvest despite fears this year's yield would not cancel out the burden caused by low prices and fears of the effects of Brexit.

Farmers say late sunshine brought resonable returns despite a wet summer.

With tightening margins, and many farmers speaking out about the financial pressures of the job, this year's harvest was considered more important than ever.

Alex Lyttle (23) works alongside his father Roy on their farm in Newtownards.

He grows 70 acres of leeks, 50 acres of scallions, 35 acres of parsley, beetroot and celery and supplies Tesco NI and Avondale Foods.

Alex said this year's harvest had been a struggle for some farmers but added that things had been better in the east where he farms.

"All in all we've had quite a good harvest," said Alex. "We're two months into leek season and scallions should be finishing within the next three weeks. Normally we would wait for another six weeks but because it has been so mild we have had a lot of problems with disease.

"The strong wind two weeks ago drew all the scallions over so we decided to stop them two weeks earlier. The leeks are slightly smaller this year - they're about two weeks behind where I'd like them to be but the growing season is ending soon and they'll not have time to catch up.

"On the other hand, we've 35 acres of cereals and it's been a real struggle to get it cut. We've only a small amount but there are some farmers in the west of Ireland who have as much as 300 acres of it still to cut. There are some farmers who are really struggling because of it."

But things haven't been so good in the north west. Limavady-based rapeseed grower Richard Kane was one of the cereal farmers to be affected by the wet weather.

He lost around 30% of his crop when heavy winds battered the golden fields which are used to produce rape for his cooking oil, Broighter Gold.

Richard estimated the damage had cost around £15,000.

Armagh apple grower Dermot Morgan, secretary of Northern Ireland Fruit Growers Association, said the wet weather had been kind to the apple producers.

He grows more than 20 varieties of apples across five orchards in Loughgall in the Orchard County although his main crop is the Armagh Bramley.

"The apple harvest started around a fortnight ago. This year the crop has been good and the apples are a good size," he said.

"All in all things seem to be better than last year although there are differences from farm to farm.

"Ground conditions are making things more difficult; heavy rain over the last few weeks has left the ground a bit soft."

Mash Direct founders Martin and Tracy Hamilton grow around 1,500 acres of potatoes, carrots, cabbage, kale and broccoli in Comber and the Ards Peninsula in Co Down.

They also grow barley as part of a crop rotation system and use the vegetables for their pre-prepared range. Tracy Hamilton explained that yield was similar to last year, but that vegetables were growing better than in other years.

"This year the quality has been exceptional. We've had a really good harvest and we have been delighted with the quality," she said. "The growing season has been very good in this area, particularly during the germination period, but I'm aware that in other some areas things have been harder.

"It helps us enormously with processing if the quality is good - peeling is easier and takes less time."

Several events are planned to celebrate harvest. In Co Down, the Peninsula Loaves and Fishes Festival takes place next Sunday and Monday, and in Armagh the Apple Cart Festival at Orchard Acre Farm takes place on October 26.

Belfast Telegraph

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