East Riding farmer John Clappison has tonnes to sprout about
THEY'RE the Marmite of the vegetable world – Brussels sprouts.
Love them or hate them, Christmas dinner plates are not complete without the humble sprout.
That's good news for East Riding farmer John Clappison who last year shifted 1,600 tonnes of his favourite vegetable.
He will sell a similar amount this year and that includes about 200 tonnes at Christmas alone.
If you shop at Morrisons, for instance, chances are you are getting sprouts grown near Beverley.
John says: "Production goes through the roof at Christmas.
"Normally, I've got about seven people working at any one time. This week I've got 30."
Sprout-picking is no easy business. The machines – these days manned mainly by Eastern European labourers – have a saw that slices the plant but then each sprout has to be cut off.
Conditions at this time of year range from freezing to muddy; there are not too many clement days.
"It can be a bit tough. We have four machines and they've all been going this week," says John.
"Potato and carrot harvesters are similar to each other. Sprout machines are much more labour-intensive."
In East Yorkshire the harvesting benefits from the topsoil being supported by chalk. That means most of John's land drains well, so muddy conditions do not mean work has to stop.
The damp conditions may even prove to have been good for John's business this year.
Sprout suppliers in other parts of the country were affected and that resulted in the price-per-tonne going up.
Thankfully, not all sprout harvesting is done in December.
John said: "We harvest sprouts six months of the year, September to March.
"We sell most at Christmas but we have a local following the rest of the time.
"Our customers range from small operations selling stalks by the roadside to someone like Morrisons."
Daniel Ritchie, sprouts buyer for Morrisons, said: "We've been working with John for 11 years and know he's got one of the biggest and best sprout farms in the UK.
"John and his team provide us with top quality sprouts and it's great for our customers in East Yorkshire to know they're eating vegetables which were grown locally."
John, 51, has lived his life at Risby Park Farm which, these days, is all arable.
He said: "The farm has been there since my grandfather, Wilfred, came here in 1932.
"We have had all sorts of things including cattle and sheep.
"In the war, they probably had dairy cows.
"I'm the third generation.
"In recent years, we've moved totally to arable farming, peas and other things.
"Sprouts are very important to us. There aren't many people who want to do sprout farming and there aren't many people who can do it."
Park Farm's sprout production started in 1976, not the best year as the crop was hit by drought conditions.
The farms had about 30 or 40 acres back then and initially supplied Bird's Eye with sprouts to be frozen.
These days, everything John supplies is to be sold fresh and, last year, his farm produced 4 per cent of all the sprouts eaten in the UK.
Park Farm has about 1,000 acres in total, mainly land surrounding Beverley and the nearby villages. His other crops include barley grown for seed, winter wheat and peas. Working the same land for so long has given John a love of the area and an appreciation of his farming's impact on it.
He says: "We've been involved with a lot of environmental schemes and also telling people about the history of Risby.
"We've got information boards so people walking the footpaths can learn something about the area.
"The Beverley 20 walk is across some of our land so we get quite a lot of walkers.
"Most of them perhaps won't know that Henry VIII once visited Risby with his entourage.
"We're part of the area and it's good to encourage people to enjoy it more when they come here."
Nothing, though, detracts from the main business of farming.
After all that planting, harvesting, transporting and price negotiating you might think John would be in no mood for actual sprout eating.
In fact, he loves them.
"I eat them, really like them.
"I've three daughters and they all like them as well, all the family eat sprouts and we'll be having them on Christmas Day."