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The more the berrier

TResearch Summer 2023

At the forefront of Irish fruit production for nearly a century, Keelings remains committed to providing locally grown produce while facing the challenges of today.

Located in North County Dublin, Keelings is a 100% Irish owned, third generation family business, with a story stretching back to 1926. Since the beginning, there has been a focus on research and development, to produce the best quality produce. From the 1920s to the late 1960s, rhubarb was a key crop on the farm. In the 1930s, Keelings began growing more fruits and salads and supplying them to the local Dublin markets. The business first planted strawberries in 1937, with Bramleys following in 1949. Today, Keelings farm 1,214ha across Ireland, Costa Rica and Brazil.

Specialising in soft fruits

On the Irish farms, we now specialise in the production of soft and top fruit across 182ha. Strawberries are the main crop, with approximately 200 million berries produced each year from both heated and cold structures. This allows us to supply the market with Irish strawberries from March until November. Keelings are one of a few Irish farms growing and supplying raspberries, blackberries and blueberries to the major retailers, with the season running from May until October.

In relation to top fruit, our primary focus is on both dessert and culinary (Bramley apples) with a smaller area of pear production. Specialised storage allows us to supply Irish apples throughout the year. We have recently expanded our dessert apple production and will be working closely with Teagasc on its newly established research programme in this area.

In 2021, Keelings launched its new purpose, Better Food Better World. Our Better Food strategic priority strives to improve the quality, taste and freshness of our produce, which will encourage more people to enjoy fresh produce and consume their seven a day. This is achieved by significant investment in research and development, to deliver new growing techniques, technologies and varieties.

Seeking sustainable strategies

Since Keelings launched the ‘Better World’ strategic priority, considerable emphasis has been placed on improving the sustainability and environmental aspects of the farms; we currently have 82 honeybee hives in situ INSIGHTand aim to increase this to 100 by 2025. In addition, we have implemented no-mow policies and wildlife-friendly farm margins. We are a member of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan 2021-2025.

The use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices is routine, with prevention and the use of biocontrols being the initial focus when dealing with pest and disease issues. On the energy front, we are reducing our dependency on conventional fuels with the planned introduction of renewable technologies.

With the trend in healthy eating on the rise, the market demand remains robust for fresh produce. There is considerable scope for expansion in the supply and consumption of Irish raspberry, blackberry, blueberry and apple production, within a favourable policy environment.

Keelings remains committed to supplying Iocally grown produce to the consumer. Keelings’ vision is to inspire more people to enjoy fresh produce leading to healthier, happier more productive lives.

Words by

Pat Farrell, Procurement Specialist at Keelings.

Image credit: Keelings.