UK: East Yorkshire farm benefits from sprouts bonanza

Love them or loathe them, Brussels sprouts are a traditional part of the British Christmas dinner. For one East Yorkshire farm the seasonal staple is a green gold-rush, which sees their sales increase five-fold over the festive period. Workers at W Clappison's farm at Walkington, near Beverley will have worked around the clock during Christmas week to gather in the crop. The company produces 5% of the UK's annual supply of sprouts. John Clappison is the third generation of his family to work the 1,000 acres (405 ha) of rolling farmland nestling in the foothills of the Yorkshire Wolds.

Brussels are the largest part of his crop with 200 acres turned over to the vegetable. The harvest season runs for six months, from September to March, but December is the peak. The farm sees an influx of temporary workers to gather and grade the vegetables for small shops and supermarket chains.
"It's quite a hard slog at Christmas," said John Clappison. "It's really the winter time when the nights are the the longest, the darkest and coldest that we are really doing some serious hard work." According to figures from the trade body, the Brassica Growers' Association, 26% of all Brussels sprouts are sold in December. Last year that amounted to about 9,702 tonnes of sprouts.

Trying to meet the demands of this market is agronomist Matthew Rawson, an agricultural expert who specialises in food crops. He is responsible for testing new varieties of sprouts. The farm grows about a dozen different types of Brussels. The mix of varieties are needed to cope with the changing weather throughout the six-month growing season and to cater for the differing demands of customers; from pre-packaged frozen ones for supermarkets, to larger fresh ones for local greengrocers. Mr Rawson explained that getting the balance right was vital. He said: "We're looking for great tasting sprouts, we're looking for holding ability, we're looking for good shelf-life, we're looking for good disease resistance. "We want nice beautiful colours that make people buy. The variation of colours that you see in sprouts is massive. We go from light green to very dark blue. If we grow the right varieties and grow them well they're a very attractive product."

This year is expected to see a bumper harvest. Good weather over summer and a dry autumn means the plants have grown tall and stayed disease free. Mr Clappison hopes this year will make up for last season which he described as " a tough year". Frost and heavy snow in November and December froze the sprouts in the fields, causing problems with the harvest. For Mr Clappison the humble sprout is not just a crop. He is almost evangelical about Brussels, promoting the product at farmers' markets and food festivals across the region. He said getting people to try the much-maligned vegetable was often his biggest battle. "I have managed to convert quite a few people," he said. "I think one of the big problems was donkey's years ago sprouts had quite a bitter taste. "Since then the breeders have managed to remove that bitterness. They're a milder, fresher tasting sprout now."


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