Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Christmas from a Vegetable Farmers perspective.

Having battled through one of the hardest growing seasons in living memory, our attentions are drawn towards the run up to Christmas and the further demands asked of the team.

Before looking forward we should look back on some details. We started the year faced with a second dry winter and the possibility of very real restrictions on supply of water for irrigation. Several hours were spent deciding whether we had access to enough water to support the viable growing of our vegetable crops. Back and forth discussions with the EA and several contingency plans had to be thought through before the cropping plan was finalised. At this point availability of food for the new season would appear to have been most at risk from a lack of water. Little were we to know that it would turn out to be impacted so strongly by too much water!

As Mother Nature tends to do, she decided to correct the shortfall of rain in the previous 18 months by sending us 350% of our average monthly rainfall in April. All talks of drought disappeared as June, July and August continued wet, each averaging 150% of average rainfall.

During this key period for crop growth, when we rely on sunlight and warm temperatures to boost size, yield and quality, the dull damp weather left an unrecoverable impact of late, small and low yielding crops. Combinable crops such as Wheat and Barley fared well on our light Breckland sands, but nationally suffered severely. Early potato crops suffered from low tuber numbers and small size, giving rise to a 20% loss in yield, with early carrot crops being similarly affected. Possibly the hardest hit was our onion crop, a crop which thrives well in bright sunny, hot conditions, probably had the worst growing season it could possibly have. The legacy of which was late maturing crops, of highly variable bulb size and very uneven harvest maturities.

With such a difficult season come huge demands on a very hard working team. The modern farm worker is moulded from tough stuff. Working in small weather windows from dawn to dusk and longer, they give their all to ensure each crop is nurtured, managed and harvested in the best condition possible. Often sacrificing precious social and family time to ensure us as a nation have food to eat.
The advent of Christmas tree harvest on the Estate signals the countdown to Christmas, and perhaps some well earned rest?! The woods and retail teams rev up to capture their harvest and the seasons bounties. On the farm attention turns to holidays and some much deserved down time. First though there is the pre season rush to be dealt with.

5 weeks to go; our onion grader starts to whir at full pace. Retail customers want the best product, with the best keeping ability to start to build a head stock of product ready for the consumer blitz on shelves.  Finding the necessary volumes with such a variable crop means long hours and high wastage levels. A necessary evil to produce a prefect onion for retail. How perfect does it need to be? How would a customer view a different size, a variable shape? A debate for another day!

4 weeks to go; the onion grader continues to work apace. The carrot and parsnip team busy harvesting away. Early mornings to enable produce to hit the factories and processors as fresh as possible. Scrapping the ice from the windscreen, low lying lingering fogs creeping through the pine trees, giving the landscape a hidden creepy undertone, the haunting bark of a deer stag cutting the air with a knife like action.

3 weeks to go; a deluge of holiday request forms! Time to give the team a well earned rest. Have we got enough to man a skeleton crew over the holidays? Relying on the same faces to give up valuable time to keep the wheels turning. The onion grader starts to tick down, with most of the produce for Christmas now at the packers, and safely secured for the last minute rush, the demand starts to slip. Christmas tree retail in full swing, the Christmas theme at the shop and restaurant giving everyone a warm feel good factor, everyone is in the holiday spirit. Plans are made for which carrot and parsnip crops can be lifted in any weather to satisfy the uplift in demand.

The last two weeks; carrots which were snugly tucked away under a blanket of polythene and straw, to keep them warm and in prime condition during November, are rudely exposed to the winter air ready for harvest. Deer hunting for something to sustain them through the winter months sense the sweet smelling carrot for miles and hone in to banquet on the orange marvel. A stark splash of colour in an otherwise grey and dour backdrop. The harvesting continues apace. Up to and including Christmas Eve. Have we got enough lifted to keep the pack houses going?

And then it stops. An abrupt halt. No slow down, no warning, we have enough! Time to lock everything away, perhaps going via a welcoming watering hole on the way home. Time to reflect on another year of tests and challenges. Let’s hope the new year is kinder to us. After all we start again in two days!!

Christmas Wishes 

Andrew Francis
Elveden Farms
Senior Farms Manager

Thursday, 21 July 2011

From potato to crisps... the journey to Walkers...

Elveden farms are the first farm in the East of England that Walkers Crisps visit with their grading line. Elveden provide them with the first 7,000 tonnes of potatoes.

The potatoes which are grown 3 rows in a bed of soil, are first topped using flails, as seen below:

A harvester follows, removing the tops and soil and putting the potatoes on top of the next bed.

The second harvester follows and gently lifts the potatoes from both beds, removes the tops and sifts out the soil before elevating them to a cart running along side.

Back in the yard the potatoes are first inspected dry.

They are then washed and rinsed before further inspection.

A final check before loading into a lorry, seen below:

and off to the factory in Leicestershire.

How many packets of crisps in 7,000 tonnes of potatoes??


Around 75 million Bags!

Friday, 6 May 2011

Whats going on at Elveden Farms...

Over winter we have prepared stone free beds of soil.

The land is first ridged into beds using a bed former, pulled by 575hp. Caterpillar tractor. Steered by satellite technology, it forms 3 beds at a time.

Stone separators scoop up the bed onto a series of webs. The soil falls through the webs, while the stones are carried to a cross conveyor which throws the stones into the trough between the 2 beds ahead of the operation.

It can be a slow and laborious job, but stone free soil means damage free crops.

In March and April we sow most of the carrots, parsnips and onions.

The Stone free soil is first tilled to freshen it up and leave fine, moist, level and deep beds.

Precision drills place individual seeds at exact spacings in pairs of rows, 3 beds at a time.

A different gang are planting potatoes also into stone free beds.
The 2 machines carefully place chitted (sprouted) tubers, 3 rows to each bed of soil.

Friday, 14 January 2011

It'stime for organic manure...

In January, we are busy spreading vast quantities of organic manure on the fields.

The manure helps to feed the plants and to hold moisture in our sandy soils. 

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Parsnips... are well under way!

There's always a camera ready and waiting at Elveden...

Below are several photographs and video clips showing the delights of (a fantastic) Parsnip harvest.

The beginning...
The crop is topped, removing any stalks and leaves, as the video below shows, 


The harvester then gently lifts the crop, sifting out any soil and then loading parsnips into trailers.

The end....

The trailers then transport the roots to the grader which further cleans and loads them into lorries.
The parsnips are then transported to the packer, where the parsnips are washed and inspected to ensure they are to the correct standard, they are then packed for the supermarket or green grocer.

Below are selection of photographs showing the end product at their very best... Inside the Elveden Estate Farm Shop

All the vegetables and trimmings for your Christmas Dinner...

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The final potatoes are lifted at Elveden

550 Hectares (1350 acres) of potatoes are grown at Elveden Farms each year.

These are grown in 3 rows in a stone separated bed.

We start harvesting the crop in July.  The potatoes are then used for the production of crisps, for McCains (McDonalds chips) as well as salad, loose and baking potatoes for many supermarkets.

Handling potatoes from harvesting to the consumer is all about being gentle to ensure potatoes are not cut or bruised.

We harvest the potatoes from stone free soil into trailers which transport them to the grader.

Any remaining soil is removed, small potatoes are graded out and they are inspected for green or misshapen potatoes, as seen above.

The potatoes are then loaded into bulk trailers or boxes for transport to the packer.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Onion Season at Elveden is nearing an end...

We grow around 550 hectares (1350 acres) of onions at Elveden Farms each year which produce up to 25,000 tons of onions.  Four double rows of seeds are sown in stone separated beds. 

When the bulbs have swollen and the tops have died back, the two toppers cut the tops off and the windrower soon follows,  gently lifting the onions and leaving them in one row to dry for a day or so. 

With a target of 1,000 tons each day, the giant (but very manoeuvrable) harvester scoops up the row of onions and removes soil and weeds on their way up the elevator and gently into 18 ton container boxes towed along side.

The video below shows the harvester.

The boxes are transported to the farm store on skeleton trailers where they are lifted by a giant forklift and placed in rows in the store. 

The box number, its weight, the position in the store and the field where the onions grew are all recorded on the computer. The onions are dried, cured and cooled in the boxes in the store until required for sale up to May the next year to supermarkets and processors. Our store at Elveden is called Avenue.

Below are a few more photographs showing some of the onion harvest:

Below are photographs showing the final stages of onion harvest, the tractors dropping the onions off at the store.