The farm: “I am salad leaf grower based in Rush, north Co Dublin. I supply Ireland’s leading supermarket chains with produce through our company, Morning Fresh Farm. All leaf packing takes place on the 11ha site. Six million heads of butterhead lettuce, pak choi and baby gem lettuce are grown each year on our farm.”

Family: “My father Maurice was a vegetable grower before I founded the company in 1994. He grew mainly tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, being the first pepper producer in the country. My son Alan studied horticulture and has been with us here on the farm for a year now.”

Supplying fresh: “We can pack at 6am or 7am in the morning and have lettuce on supermarket shelves by 9am. The freshness cannot be beaten. As indoor growers, we supply produce year-round, only shutting for Christmas Day and Good Friday. This allows us to employ around 25 staff year-round.”

Consumer trends: “Sales of pak choi took off from the onset of pandemic restrictions last year, with people keen to try new foods when cooking at home. Once the consumer has had a good experience with a new product, they are likely to become repeat buyers. We also see lettuce sales increase each January, as diets become popular after the Christmas period.”

Breeding success: “We are keen to engage with industry and try out new ideas. I was the first grower to trial a clubroot-resistant pak choi variety six or seven years ago. The variety became widely used in the industry. We are currently trialling fusarium-tolerant lettuce, as the fungus has been a major problem for European growers for the past three years. These developments allow the farm business to compete with imports which come from as far away as Zimbabwe.”

Grower challenges: “The cold nights of the past few months have slowed growth, even in the glasshouses. The pandemic disruptions have also affected Irish growers’ costs. The cost of packaging materials has increased but we are hopeful that these price increases will subside once the industry reopens fully.”

Quotable quote: “If I want to make the farm work, you need to introduce yourself to something new. Becoming niche growers has helped our business survive in challenging times.”