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Local is not always best

I arrived at our farm in the Vendée, France, to see the combine harvester pouring the last of our sunflower seeds into the waiting trailer.

The crop was barely ready, but our team took their chances and made their own luck; with the harvest in the barn and dark clouds gathering, there was just time for a celebratory beer before the first clap of thunder. The ensuing deluge would have ruined the sunflowers, whose bowed heads are notoriously prone to rain damage.

I had hoped we would set up our own press and supply you with fresh organic oil, but commercial reality dictates that we are just too small to clean, dry and press viably. Another under-researched pipe dream bites the dust. The local co-op will pay us a paltry €300 per tonne, and the oil will join the lake of a globally-traded commodity.

Most of our staff in France are busy harvesting a bumper crop of Butternut squash. After too many of our Devon crops failed to ripen, and disappointed in the kitchen, we decided to grow them here. We get twice the yield of sweeter, harder-skinned fruit, that keep better, with half the diesel, seeds and crop covers used in their cultivation.

Butternut squash

However counter-intuitive, local is not always best. There are strong arguments for growing a crop on the right soil, in the right climate. Despite 250 miles on a lorry to get home, I strongly suspect our French squash have a smaller environmental footprint than the Devon crop used to.

We picked the last Padron peppers, sweet peppers, lettuces and cucumbers last week and will harvest the last aubergines this week. There is still 15 tonnes of Calabrese broccoli to harvest which, if it survives, will carry us through to mid November when the Spanish crop starts. With falling light levels and typically heavy seasonal rain expected, we are pushing our luck taking the crop this late. After two good years, luck may be running out; the crop has taken on the washed-out look and telltale seaweed smell that precedes premature yellowing.

Beds are prepared for the first lettuces that will be sown next month under glass, for planting outside in January. Even on our sandy, well-drained land, we can’t be confident of soil conditions allowing us to make a seedbed in the next three months. With just broccoli and oca to harvest, all that is left to do is tidy up, work out if we have made any money, plan for another year. Oh yes, and worry about Brexit.      

Comments

Annonie Mouse

3 Weeks 5 Days

We really enjoy rapeseed oil, seems to grow pretty well in the UK, one to try over sunflower?

0 Reply

Charlotte

3 Weeks 4 Days

Please don't cover any more of the countryside with the dayglo yellow Hay Fever Special!

0 Reply

Denby

3 Weeks 3 Days

Shame the sunflower seeds couldn't be sold as seeds. Some of us would pay for organic ones to add to bread as long as you could get them hulled.
I grew some plants this year, much to my pleasure, from accidental leftover seeds found in the paper bag you sent last years free-for-the- birds sunflower heads out in. I have left the rather small heads on the plants for the birds to eat in the winter. Suppose I should save a few seeds for next year...

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Guy Singh-Watson

Self-confessed veg nerd, Guy Singh-Watson has over the last 30 years taken Riverford from one man and a wheelbarrow delivering homegrown organic veg to friends, to a national veg box scheme delivering to around 50,000 customers a week. Guy is an opinionated and admired figure in the world of organic farming, who still spends more time in the fields than in the boardroom. Twice awarded BBC Radio 4 Farmer of the Year, Guy is passionate about sharing with others the organic farming and business knowledge he has accumulated over the last three decades. His video rants have provided a powerful platform to do this, with a video on pesticides going viral on Facebook to reach 5.6 million views and 91,000 shares. His weekly veg box newsletters connect customers to the farm with refreshingly honest accounts of the trials and tribulations of producing organic food, and the occasional rant about farming, ethical and business issues he feels strongly about. In June 2018, Guy handed over the reins of Riverford to its staff, choosing employee ownership as the model that will protect Riverford's ethical values forever and ensure the security of its employees.  

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