Meet Yorkshire's only sprout grower as he prepares for Christmas rush

LOVE them or loathe them, sprouts play a key role in seasonal fare - and this Christmas Yorkshire grower John Clappison thinks there will be even more demand than usual.

Harvesting has been going on for weeks now on the 300 acres Mr Clappison farms in East Yorkshire and will continue until the end of March.

Yorkshire’s sole sprout grower and one of only 15 nationally, Mr Clappison’s crop account for around five per cent of the total UK market, with his 4.2m plants producing around 3.2m bags.

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In fields at Rowley, two harvesters trundle slowly up and down the dark green lines, scything through the stems for two seated workers to pick up and feed into a machine, which cuts off the individual sprouts and spits out the chopped up stalks.

Sprout grower John Clappison at his farm near Beverley Picture by Simon Hulme

A packing plant nearby send them off to the supermarkets so they can be on the shelves 48 hours later.

They are doing around 10 tonnes a day now - but come their busiest period, the week before Christmas, demand cranks up seven-fold, with harvesting going on late into the night. The machines can carry on however claggy it gets, but frost is a problem, and sprouts can’t be picked below minus 1.5C.

While turkey farmers have raised concerns that there will not be demand for their biggest birds because of restrictions on gatherings, Mr Clappison thinks Christmas will be bigger than usual.

He said: “It will be very difficult to predict how it’s going to pan out, but our customers are telling us it is going to be really big. We are preparing for a very big Christmas.“

Brothers Gregor and Marius Suwala working harvesting sprouts

"Two of our customers are doing home delivery and I think that will be very big. Basically everybody promotes Brussel sprouts at Christmas, it's something that started with Aldi.”

Mr Clappison has been harvesting sprouts since 1976 and still enjoys them fresh off the stalk.

He started supplying Morrisons in 2000, and also supplies Aldi and Iceland. He said: “Twenty years ago they were not readily available - just at Christmas - but with plant breeding and changes in husbandry we’ve managed to extend the season until the end of March.”

His workforce includes brothers Marius and Gregor Suwala, who hail originally from Katowice in Poland.

John Clappison's 4.2m plants producw around 16,000 tonnes of sprouts in a season Picture: Simon Hulme

After seven years on a factory production line, Marius, 40, who has settled in Hull with his girfriend and two children, says he loves working outdoors.

He doesn’t mind the cold and damp, as a heater blasts out hot air and they can keep the rain out. He too is a sprout fan eating them cooked and dressed with butter and breadcrumbs, and says he can earn more than double what he could make in Poland as a driver.

The threat of any of his workers coming down with coronavirus is a worry for Mr Clappison who says it would be hard to find anyone who can beat them for their skill, and determination: “Some of these guys will be lifting half a million plants in six months.”