Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland vegetable growers: Unpredictable weather and the costly consequences

Rainy weather
Image caption Costly protection measures are needed for produce like leeks and scallions.

Lots of us find reason to complain about the weather, but none are more affected than those whose livelihoods depend on it.

A vegetable grower's battle with our unpredictable climate can cost them more than a ruined day out - and that's not the only challenge they face.

Costly protection measures are needed for produce like leeks and scallions.

Hail showers are the biggest problem, they batter and bruise the emerging plants.

Acres of surplus

That makes the cost of growing them in Northern Ireland more expensive than bringing them in from places like Mexico, where many scallions are grown.

When the call came for County Armagh farmer, Paddy Finn, in October last year, it wasn't good news.

Image caption Paddy Finn has considered pulling out of the leek business

The supermarkets were only selling a quarter of the leeks he was supplying.

Plans to roll out the range across a whole chain were dropped, leaving Paddy with ten acres of surplus.

Risk

Without a written contract, he had no choice but to plough his produce back into the ground at a cost of £30,000.

This spring, faced with a rising wages bill and slim margins, he considered pulling out of the business and laying off his 40 staff.

Only the promise of a better price from his customers, including some supermarkets, persuaded him to keep going.

Image caption Growers are glad that big supermarkets seem committed to supporting locally grown produce.

Because of the risks involved in producing fruit and vegetables, businesses are being urged to come together to discuss setting up a new organisation that will give them greater influence with the supermarkets.

Growers, packers and processors have all been invited.

An agreement would give them bulk-buying potential for the things they need and would also mean they'd have more say in the price they get for their produce.

Growers are glad that big supermarkets seem committed to supporting locally grown produce.

But they'd like to see the risk spread and the additional lengths they go to to produce their vegetables reflected in the price they're paid.

Ivor Ferguson, of the Ulster Farmer's Union, told BBC News NI: "Individual small farmers don't really have a voice.

"So growers are being urged to come together."

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