The wet and cold weather of spring 2024 has hampered growth and delayed planting in the strawberry sector.

Jimmy Kearns of Kearns Fruit Farm in Wexford said that the year has been a trudge so far and one of the worst years he has seen.

“Cold weather is causing major problems. The heating is still on. We would normally would be finished around the start of April. If we don’t get fine weather and heat soon, we’ll be in great bother,” he said.

“The demand is good for the product, but we can’t produce enough of it – we can’t get the yields now. The light levels this year are down 30% on last year, and that has an effect on growth. I can’t see it being a good year. I think crops will be back by 30% to 40%; it’s not looking good.

“The fruit sector is suffering as much as everyone else,” he said.

Peter Donnellan, general manager in Kearns Fruit Farm in Wexford, said there has been difficult weather conditions since last July.

“It was very difficult to keep the planting programme on schedule. We missed planting dates because we couldn’t get tunnels covered with wet, windy weather. We are looking at the season being two to three weeks behind where it should be.

“Everything we have picked so far has come out of a heated glasshouse (earliest crop). Around 70% is picked at this stage. The follow-up crop is coming out of a tunnel and is quite late, so there will be a gap. We would normally be picking the fruit from tunnels around now, but we won’t be picking fruit from tunnels until the first week of June.

“There is going to be a scarcity of fruit for the next few weeks, plenty of issues with supply purely because of the weather.

“There is huge demand, there is no doubt about it. The market for berries has been growing year on year for the last 10 years, particularly for Irish strawberries and Wexford strawberries.

“We are producing a premium product in Ireland in comparison to imported products during the winter season,” he said.

Increased costs

Labour is a big issue, Donnellan said.

“It’s about 50% of our total cost of production. We are very labour dependent in this industry. We have some people employed on work permits.

“When they were granted work permits, they had to earn a minimum of €22,000 per annum. We are now renewing some of them, and the minimum salary has increased to €30,000 per annum. A lot of people can’t afford to pay that money.

“What we don’t have is a seasonal work permit scheme, which would allow to employ people for six to seven months. The restrictions and salary is nearly making it not fit for purpose. There have been huge cost increases in the last three years, between COVID-19, the war in Ukraine and labour.

“We are being hit from all angles with cost increases,” he said.

Plant protection products

Donnellan also said that growers are being impacted by issues with plant protection products.

“Any good ones to control insects are gradually being withdrawn from the market; the ones we are left with aren’t as effective. We have expensive spray programmes, but they aren’t having the desired effect. A lot of our protection is in the form of biological control – it is very good, but very expensive,” he said.

Eamon Crean of Greenhill Fruit Farm, Wexford, said the damp conditions mean there is pressure on disease levels and keeping crops dry.

When asked about demand, Crean said that they are only coming to the market now, with roadside sales opening up on 17 May, but that, so far, everything seems to be positive. “Irish people are very supportive of Irish fruits, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.”


He said that his biggest challenge is minimum wage.

“Up to 50% to 60% of costs on fruit farms is wages, which have gone up nearly 13%, so it will be hard to get that out of the market without making fruit expensive.”

Employment contracts are also an issue for him. With only 12-month work visas available now, it is hard to get people for seasonal employment, he said.

Six-month work visas would mean he would have more access to a bigger range of staff.

New variety needed

A major issue facing strawberry growers is that Malling Centenery, one of the main varieties used in Ireland, will be limited in availability from 2026, due to propogators in Holland deciding to stop growing the variety, growers warned. The search is on to get another variety to replace it.