The Flynn family has been growing tomatoes on the outskirts of Dublin for more than 60 years.
And now father and son duo, William and Martin, have taken the business to the next level with £667,000 investment (900,000 euros) in 1.24-acres of new glasshouses.
The investment, which was part funded by Ireland’s rural development programme, has enabled the family to start growing new varieties and helped secure a contract with Aldi as the retailer’s sole Irish tomato supplier.
“This is a family business going back four generations,” said William. “My parents started growing tomatoes here in the 1950s but they were growing them before that.
“The first glasshouses were built in 1966, and the next one was built in 1974, with the latest built last year.”
He said the tomato growing side of the business was now in the hands of Martin, 24, while the other focus for the farm was 400 acres of grain production in conjunction with his brother, Jimmy.
In addition the family stores and dries grain for other farmers.
“We are taking in about 6,000 tonnes from a couple of neighbours and we have about 1,200 tonnes of our own,” said William.
“We have storage for 20,000 tonnes and in the winter we store soya and distillers’ grains for three different feed companies. It’s a good source of income during the winter months.”
William says he backed Martin to secure funding and grow the tomato business because his own father had given him a chance at an early age.
The first batch of tomatoes to be planted in the new glasshouses, which are powered by gas, were put in on January 19 with picking starting nine weeks later in March.
The plants will continue to yield crops until the end of November and beginning of December.
As part of the new system, CO is pumped into the old glasshouses to boost growth.
William said: “Martin has really put production back into the old houses and he is taking heat of the new boiler into the old houses.”
The two varieties being grown in the new greenhouse are Sunstream and Piccolo.
The first has been grown by the family for around three years, while the second is being grown for the first time this year and the family is the only grower in Ireland licensed to grow it. It is grown exclusively for Aldi.
“We were supplying Aldi for the past three years but this year we got a contract with them for five years, and we have a set price with them which we are going to renew every year,” said Martin.
He said the new greenhouses were much more user-friendly, which was key when securing staff to pick the tomatoes.
Trolleys are installed on runners on each row, allowing pickers to easily go along and up and down while working.
A biocontrol system is in place and old plants are left on the ground to become natural compost.
In the older greenhouses the Flynns grow two other tomato varieties – Bella Rossa and Mecano.
This is the first year the family has grown Bella Rossa and, according to William, the variety is performing better than expected.
“There is more money in the new varieties,” he said.
“The older varieties couldn’t make money and I was nearly giving up many’s a time because many’s a year I lost money.”
So what are the family’s plans for the future?
William says the new greenhouse has been designed to accommodate expansion, which would cost much less because the main boiler is already in place.
“It’s hard to know how to make money at tomatoes but hopefully Martin will make a living out of it,” said William.
“By keeping the new varieties on the truss and packing them we are adding value. That’s made a real difference wince we started growing the speciality tomatoes – it’s definitely extra money coming in.”