Great Britain

‘As we come out of Europe, why not drop ‘Brussels’ and just call them sprouts?’

Brexit has become synonymous with ‘taking back control’ and one farmer believes it could bring an opportunity to rename the humble brussels sprout.

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Alan Steven, who has been growing the micro-cabbages on the family farm Hillhead, at Kingsbarns, east of St Andrews, for 30 years, made the suggestion as he helped to bring in the harvest for a national wholesaler ahead of the Christmas Eve deadline.

Tongue-in-cheek, he said: “As we come out of Europe, why not drop ‘Brussels’ and just call them sprouts?”

The vegetable is completely associated in the consumer’s eye with Christmas dinners, but tends to split national opinion between those who like them and those who eat them reluctantly, if at all.

Mr Steven and his brother John and father, also Alan, run a slick operation.

Their 10 hectares of sprouts are planted in sequence during May using five different varieties to give spread of maturity between November and Easter. Spacing is used as a tool to control size.

The plants for the Christmas period, mostly of the variety Petrus, are spaced at 19 inches in 24in rows to ensure the buttons are up to size.

Later maturing crops are planted at 16in spacing in the same width of row.


The Stevens have their own five row trans-planter which is used to plant their own crop, the 18-acres grown by their cousins Ian and Robbie at Beley a couple of miles inland, and around 150-acres for neighbours.

Hillhead is well-sited for growing the crop.

It has a variety of soils including some lighter Class 1 land right on the North Sea coast. This virtually frost-free environment is near ideal for winter vegetables.

This week, when much of Britain’s farmland was still saturated to capacity, the tracked two-row sprout harvester working at Hillhead Farm was leaving hardly a mark.

Operated by experienced local labour on contract rates, the self-propelled rig was harvesting around 14-16 tonnes a day in one shift.

A break even yield would be 13.4 tonnes/ha, but Mr Steven targets between 19.8 and 24.7t/ha.

He said: “It is a crop where attention to detail is important. Inputs are high and between Red Tractor, Leaf and other assurance schemes, there are a lot of boxes to tick.”