In this week’s Farmer Focus series, It’s farming, speaks to Peter McKeever from Long Meadow Farm, County Armagh. We discuss the Keevers’ transition into the apple farming business, the farm they operate, the harvest season, and the ups and downs of life as an apple grower.
Peter, alongside his parents, Catherine and Pat McKeever, sisters, Catrina, Alanna, Patricia and Nuala, run an apple and cider business.
Peter describes the operation as “quite a family business”.
He is a third generation farmer at Long Meadow Farm. He is accompanied on the farm by the next generation of farmers, his nephews.
The family farm has been in business for three generations. His grandfather founded “Long Meadow Farm”, where he planted the first apple trees on the family farm in Portadown.
“We still have the trees Grandpa planted on our farm today.”
Long Prairie Farm
Peter’s grandparents, Kathleen and Peter, sparked his interest in the family farm.
“My grandmother, Kathleen, and my grandfather, Peter, used to grow their own strawberries. Then, grandfather introduced the apples to the farm, and my father took over,” he explains to It’s farming.
“I finished school and went to the farm full time about eight or nine years ago.”
Fast forward to 2022, Long Meadow Farm produces apples from its family farm alongside its thriving cider mill.
They produce artisan ciders, apple juices, apple cider vinegar, as well as bespoke family farm tour packages.
“It really is a full-time job, whether you’re in the orchards or on a production line bottling apple juice and labeling or packaging.”
“Other farm duties include guiding guests through our peaceful and beautiful orchards where they have the chance to experience life on an apple farm.”
When guests attend farm tours, they have the opportunity to sample cider and dine amid the orchards with homemade apple pies.
Growing apples in Portadown
The family farm includes 28 acres of orchard plantings, plus an additional 80 acres of nearby orchards. Both farms are home to a variety of different orchards.
“We have older trees that were planted over 50 years ago. Grandpa also grafted a sweet tree among these, so really, you have two trees growing in one.
When discussing the different types of apples suitable for cider production, Peter recounts It’s farming“A Bramley apple is a fantastic crisp cooking apple”.
According to Peter, these Bramley apples are also “excellent for pollination and in his grandfather’s day it saved farmers from planting separate trees elsewhere”. “A delicious golden apple tree is grafted inside these Bramley apple trees.”
The young trees at Long Meadow Farm were planted fifteen years ago. A fruit wall system has been in place for twelve years.
“The purpose of having these new, young systems in place is to encourage safe working on the farm. »
“Health and safety are very important in orchards. Younger and smaller trees reduce the work of scale for our teams, and it makes the picking process easier.
The predominant variety grown at Long Meadow Farm is the Armagh Bramley apple, for which they hold IGP status.
“We grow IGP Bramley apples because they are excellent ware apples. Also, we have customers who don’t need their fruit right away. We use our cold stores to keep the fruit fresh.
The Bramley apple could be stored on the farm for seven to eleven months. Table apples are intended for the production of apple juice, craft cider and apple cider vinegar.
Besides that, Katy, Worcester, Jona Gold Price, Red Elstar and Golden Delicious are the other varieties grown in McKeever’s orchard.
The harvest season at Long Meadow Farm begins in late August. Moreover, this period can last up to nine to ten weeks on the farm.
“A good team helping you is half the battle. We would normally have a team of 18-30 people. The machines are not used to pick or pick the fruit; everything is handpicked.
Peter has set goals for himself in terms of the ideal apple. “Our goal is to grow our apples to 65mm and above. To achieve this, we take care of our orchards all year round to obtain rich and healthy fruit.
Peter tells It’s farming about apples that are not cut for production, “apples that are unsuitable for production and storage are called bargains.”
These apples simply fall to the ground and are also picked up. Subsequently, they enter a separate enterprise for further production and can also be used in terms of animal feed.
“Fortunately, there is little to no waste on our farm,” he commented.
Each year a new list of goals is established for Long Meadow Farm.
“The goals we set for ourselves each year are to continue to produce clean and safe products, by seeking new dealers and by establishing reliable relationships with our customers.”
Setting farm goals each year encourages apple growers to “up their game” when it comes to producing apple cider, apple juice and apple cider vinegar.
“I am constantly thinking about new additions to our range, researching and researching new markets, expanding the farm and our tours.”
apple tree life
Peter particularly notices the joy he derives from leading a life in apple production.
“He has a nice lifestyle. Every day is different in terms of work, tasks at hand, people I meet, and areas I might be in while riding around in the van. »
Peter and his team carry out a series of tasks every day to keep the apple production business running smoothly.
On reflection, Peter recounts It’s farming some of the difficulties and potential challenges that have arisen. “A lot of farmers are in the same boat, big challenges like getting equipment, produce, fuel and spray products.”
Like many farmers, Long Meadow Farm has been affected by the rising cost of supplies.
Another aspect that has become a challenge is the search for employees. “Good seasonal workers to help us through the harvest has been a huge challenge during Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Peter. It’s farming.
The future has no limits
Right now, the Keevers are justifiably thrilled with their current business. The older trees are the focus of the farm for the next few years.
“Our future in apple growing looks bright, fortunately, as we have diversified on our farm with the cider house producing delicious and natural products.”
Peter tells It’s farming, “I left school and didn’t go to college.”
However, he did take various courses at Loughry College, which Peter described as “incredibly helpful and really helpful”.
His main life ambition after his school years was to start working. It was from this period that Long Meadow Farm began producing craft cider at ‘Long Meadow Cider’.
Peter concludes: “A lot of hard work, time, money and stress has been put into these businesses by my parents, myself and my siblings. We are just thrilled with our family farm so far.”
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