Cyril and Margaret Wheelock

Strawberry growers in Tomnafunshogue, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford

The Wheelocks grow strawberries in a traditional strawberry-growing area of Co Wexford with their three sons George, Thomas and Warren.

The family is a number of weeks into the year’s picking season, which runs from May to October.

Strawberries from their unheated houses are sold from the farm shop, as well as from roadside stands.

“The plants have benefited from the cold nights of late spring, which help with flavour. The full crops have us quietly hopeful of good yields this season,” said Cyril Wheelock.

“Sales last year were up, as many customers found themselves with more disposable income and the time to shop for quality produce.

“We enjoy having customers pick their own strawberries on the farm. They can see exactly how the produce is grown and this picking is the best quality inspection we could ever have,” Cyril commented.

Niall McCormack

First-generation strawberry grower, raspberry grower and beef farmer, from Colehill, Abbeyshrule, Co Longford with more strawberries in Co Westmeath

The smaller early-May strawberry volumes on the farms of Niall McCormack have given way to stronger crops.

McCormack Fruits supplies produce to supermarkets, wholesalers and local shops in the midlands. The business is a family affair, with help from daughters Gemma, Katie and Leonie much needed in the picking season.

Niall and Katie McCormack gearing up for a busy picking season on their strawberry farms in counties Longford and Westmeath. / McCormack Fruits

The McCormacks abandoned mushroom growing in the early 2000s, as supplying strawberries to the domestic market proved a more reliable income stream for the family business.

Strawberry sweetness has been good so far this year, with the raspberry picking season approaching in mid-June.

“Demand rose last year over the first lockdown and remained high since then. Even the hotels had a burst of high demand for fresh fruit when they opened in the summer,” McCormack explained.

“There was more people homecooking. Customers were more willing to support homegrown fruit and vegetables too,” he continued.

“We concentrate on growing the older, smaller varieties known for sweetness. The McCormack Fruits brand is built on delivering these superior strawberries to customers on demand,” commented McCormack.

The McCormacks have invested heavily in water recycling systems and labour-saving machinery, as the business seeks to overcome emerging environmental and labour challenges of the fruit growing industry.

Eamon Crean

Grower of strawberries, blackberries and raspberries in Davidstown, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford

The need for skilled picking staff is increasing on the farm of Eamon Crean, with raspberries coming into season now and blackberries beginning to ripen from mid-June.

“We have been picking strawberries here for the past month. We hope to continue with the good, strong picks we have had so far,” said Crean on this month’s yields.

“The farm requires a lot of labour to cope with the peak picking demand of mid-summer. As we struggle to find enough skilled pickers in Ireland, we source pickers from other EU countries.

“Changes to quarantine measures and low case numbers will allow workers to safely travel much more easily into the country. These workers are needed to supplement the labour provided by seasonal pickers and students.

“We have great respect for the pickers on the farm. It takes great skill to pick and sort up to 40kg of fruit per hour. It is said that it takes two seasons to get up to full picking speed,” he said.