Oct 3, 2011Haygrove Brit Tour: Day 1
The first official day of our tour took us to Ledbury, the location of Haygrove’s headquarters. Crops grown on the site include strawberries, cherries, raspberries and blackberries. All of Haygrove’s production is under high tunnels. In addition, the company conducts numerous research trials to try out various growing systems under the tunnels and to examine new practices.
Tim Sobey and Paul Sneyd, who led the group around the various plots, discussing the different systems being used at each one. The first plot visited was a an Amnesty strawberry planting featuring 6 hectares of a first-season planting on a tabletop system. The system was grown on a coconut-fiber substrate system. This block, the guides said, was all about using automation for the venting and the side walls.
“The standard problem is that farmers can never get to venting their tunnels on time,” Sobey said. So, Haygrove is looking at various types of automation to provide an efficient, cost-effective solution to make it easier for growers to vent their systems.
The next production system we visited for strawberries consisted of lower beds, with a double row. “I think this system is really interesting,” Sobey told the group. “Very exciting.” This system is set up with a roller bar down the middle on which workers place their trays, allowing them to have both hands free for picking. In addition, these tables are set up on a system that allows them to be lowered to the ground in the colder months, where they are then covered with “fleece” — called mulch in the U.S. Sobey estimated that this double bed system, below, has 33 percent more production than the tabletop system shown above.
We then visited the cherry plantings, where Sobey showed off the farm’s soil — “you won’t find a single stone in it.” The clay-type soil runs 2 to 3 inches deep and has led to some issues with phytophthora.
The raspberry plantings were, perhaps, a personal favorite. The impressive bushes towered over us as we walked through the tunnels. But, even more impressive than that? The size of the berries. The variety? Maravilla.
These raspberries, which were planted in April, all are grown in pots due to similar issues with phytophthora. This year, the year of planting, the cop was 10 days to 2 weeks later than it will be in following years. These raspberries were being picked this fall.
Haygrove is able to pick raspberries 365 days per year, Sobey said. These plants will be put in cold storage and pulled out throughout the off months between floricane and primocane crops next year. “This has been very successful,” Sobey said, “largely due to the characteristics of this variety.”
As we were walking through the tunnels, we looked up and noticed an interesting seam across the top. Called an “alligator joint,” this seam is used to hold together two pieces of plastic. It’s made by lining the two pieces of plastic next to each other, cutting slits in each one and then tying them together.
The day wrapped up with a tour of the Haygrove Packhouse, where we watched the teams pack raspberries for Tesco, a local supermarket. The packing line utilizes a system of weights and computers, where each member of the line can compare on a real-time screen that shows how many berries she’s packing and how that compares to the others working the ilne. Someone packing more No. 1s, for example, than others on the line may be packing too fast and putting too many No. 2 berries in the clamshell. Each station also contains a scale where the team members weigh the berries as they are packed.
Wrapping up for the day, we took a look at a few of Haygrove’s trials — all seeking to offer more efficient options for growers. These include production practices, high tunnel systems and automation. Sobey summed it up saying that “If you’re of the right sort of mind, once you’ve got something perfect, you still want to improve it.”
Be sure to check back tomorrow for more photos and information after we visit Cobrey Farms. John and Henry Chinn are the largest asparagus growers in the United Kingdom and are now experimenting with intensive systems of production using double-skinned Haygrove Solo Series Tunnels to produce asparagus in the off season.