You can download previous versions of our magazine from our archives.
Follow on facebook
East of Scotland Growers
by Andrew Arbuckle
As this season’s young broccoli and cauliflower plants arrive for planting, Alistair Ewan, the managing director of East of Scotland
Growers, one of the UK’s largest producers of vegetables expressed his concern over rocketing transport costs.
“It now costs us over £1,000 for every lorry load in bringing plants up from either Lincolnshire or Lancashire. That is almost 20% more than it did only a few months ago and there seems to be no end to fuel price increases.”
This year the farmer owned co-operative, which is based in Cupar, will require more than one hundred lorry loads to bring north the 80 million or so plants that are needed.
“The problem is that road transport is only one aspect of the rise in fuel prices as tractor diesel, sprays, fertilisers and polythene are all
affected by the price of oil. We are facing increased costs all around while the one price that is not rising is what we eventually get from the buyers of our produce.”
Despite Alistair’s worries, the twenty members of the co-operative will this year aim to produce some 14,000 tonnes of broccoli and 5,000
tonnes of cauliflower for both the fresh and frozen market.
In a normal year, the first crops are planted in early March along some of the coastal land in Angus and Fife. After planting, they are then covered with polythene sheeting. This year, because of much lower soil temperatures coming out of the severe winter, a larger acreage had to be protected in this expensive way.
Alistair did not expect the slower start to the season to greatly affect the onset of harvesting, which is pencilled in for the first week of June and then carrying on right to the end of November.
In order to ensure a regular supply of fresh broccoli over this lengthy period, every grower is given their own planting programme and has to
keep to it.
For the growers on the early lighter ground, there is the opportunity after the first crop is taken in June, to plant another one for harvest in late autumn.
The geographical spread of the growers in the group is important with some farming along the coastline and others in the fertile lands of
Brassica growing on a field scale only came into being in the East of Scotland after the sugar beet factory closed in 1971. Initially a large
number of growers were involved in a range of crops but this has now been whittled down to very specialist growers each with a large acreage of either broccoli or cauliflower; a statement borne out by the 4,000 to 5,000 acres of vegetables being grown by only 20 farmers.
Ewan added that East of Scotland Growers also handle a small acreage of swede and leeks but this is mainly to keep their major customers happy.
All of the growers have irrigation as this is vital in a dry year where the crops are very sensitive to any moisture deficit.
The harvesting is still all carried out by hand with teams of workers operating behind a slow moving rig where they cut the ripe heads and
place them on moving conveyors. If the crop is heading for the supermarket shelves, the packing is carried out on the rig and full
pallets transferred on the headlands.
However, if the final destination for the crop is one of the freezing factories, the main containers used are specially constructed plastic
containers that each take about one tonne of product.
As a further example of the increased sophistication in the husbandry of the crop, most of the growers have now installed on farm chill stores, which on a summer’s day can quickly take out the field heat from the harvested crop.
“This is vital in extending shelf life and nowadays the major retailers demand this,” explained Alistair.
However, there is a problem with harvesting in that those cutting broccoli and cauliflower come under the Scottish Agricultural Wages
Board and as such they require to be paid overtime after completing their statutory weekly hours.
Alistair maintains that moving to this higher rate of pay makes the crop uneconomic and compares this situation with workers in all other
industries where the Minimum Wage applies with no restriction on hours.
“Most of the harvest workers want to earn as much as they can in as short a period as possible. But their earnings are being limited by the
ruling of the SAWB,” he claimed.
East of Scotland Growers which came into existence in 1989 as a result of an amalgamation of previous vegetable growing groups, initially had
an annual turnover of just over £1 million but this has grown to the current level of about £10 million. It is totally owned by the farmer members.
The company has recently recruited Andrew Faichney, as operations manager. As a student, he worked with the co-operative and now after a spell as a farm manager he has returned to help the complex operation along.
Part of his working remit is to oversee the small acreage of organically grown broccoli which is now being grown. This started several years ago but has suffered with a downturn in demand during the recession but it is now back on course.
“Growing organic vegetables is not now about beards and sandals, it requires the very highest levels of husbandry and attention to detail.
Crops are covered with insect proof sheeting which costs about £1,500 per acre. Weeds are controlled by the pre-emergence burning off with