For us at Riverford in the Vendée, this is one of our busiest times of year. The ‘heavy lifting’ of the season has just begun. We’re currently picking three types of salad; Batavia, Cos and little gem lettuce, as well as bunched radishes and pak choi. On top of this we’re planting chard and broad beans in preparation of a busy summer period.
Once the salad finishes in May, we’ll start to harvest some summer greens, turnips and kohlrabi. And when the summer season begins, we’ll start getting up very early to avoid the worst of the heat in the polytunnels where we grow the aubergines and Padron peppers. At around 11am the heat is too much to endure, so we move out to work in the fields.
It’s been an excellent salad season so far because the weather has been very dry, and so we have fewer problems with the fungal disease mildew, which likes moisture. But with this lack of rain it means we have to irrigate to provide the plants with enough water to grow.
It’s strange to have to use irrigation so early on in the season, but it’s just another example of climate change forcing us to adapt. It’s becoming more and more important to plan our growing regime carefully, adapting to changing weather patterns. We have to closely monitor the weather with even more scrutiny to adapt in case of extreme weather; frosts, rain and even hail occurring at unusual times of the year.
As you can imagine, Brexit brings some further complications with customs paperwork and bureaucracy. This adds extra work, but it is manageable. One of the biggest challenges is because we have to declare what we are going to export 24 hours in advance, there’s little flexibility. Even if there is produce ready to be picked and Riverford want us to send more, there’s no going back after declaring the paperwork. If there are two extra pallets of vegetables, they simply stay here with us in Vendée. The system is very rigid.
This is frustrating for us, because if we’re left with a surplus we have to look for a solution on the local market. It’s rare that there is a good alternative; the local supermarkets are much harder to work with. They have a very different philosophy of working to Riverford.