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Veg growers must move with the times

Andy Hayllor

Of all the issues caused by this summer’s drought, the one we didn’t expect was seagulls. We had a huge problem with them pulling plants out of rows, looking for moisture or food. We lost 25 per cent of the Calabrese crop this year through seagulls; I’ve never seen anything like it. Summer was extremely difficult all round, soils were like talcum powder and we could barely get the weeding machines through. We’ve now got more weeds than we would normally have, and the crops have had more competition. That said, it’s incredible how well everything has come through the drought… It was looking like it was going to be a total loss, but plants are very clever and they will adapt to the circumstances. They shut down and then start up again when the conditions are right; ours have really come back to life, good and healthy.

I run two farms, with help from my nephew and son, and we grow a range of organic veg for Riverford including potatoes, broad beans, carrots, peas, caulis and black kale, or cavolo nero. We’ve run it on a shoestring this year because last year our Bulgarian field team left; the weather was so bad the year before that they couldn’t face another winter. We have really struggled with finding pickers. We can’t get any British people to do those jobs, so we rely on workers from Eastern Europe. The weather is the biggest challenge but it’s getting harder to find workers since Brexit and the weaker pound. It’s a big worry.

I’ve been with Riverford since the start, so around 27 years now. We’re always trying to find different crops to fill the gaps, like the new Buttonhole kale variety that we planted in June and are harvesting a limited amount of this week. My thinking is you can’t stand still, or you’ll get left behind; people’s tastes change all the time, and we need to grow new crops to reflect that. We have such a different population base now to what we used to, and if we can grow things like pak choi in our climate instead of importing, then we should try and do that. You’ve got to be adventurous or people get bored. And I like trialling new crops – it keeps the job interesting.

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Andy Hayllor

Andy Hayllor is a long-term Riverford supplier and organic farmer. He has been a member of the South Devon Organic Producers co-operative for 27 years and grows a huge range of field vegetables, as well as rearing livestock. 

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