Richard Fitzpatrick – Red Tractor Pea Farmer
The humble British pea; you’ve probably never given much thought to how farmers produce such a tender, fresh product for your freezer. And you’ve almost certainly never considered the fact that a pea is only perfectly ripe for 24 hours of its life and needs to be harvested and frozen on that very day to achieve ultimate quality and freshness for shoppers.
That job is the responsibility of people like Richard Fitzpatrick, general manager of Holbeach Marsh Cooperative. He represents 30 growers who all produce peas under the Red Tractor Standards Scheme.
Richard’s growers strive for the super fresh 150-minute pea, which has to be frozen two and a half hours after being cut. Produced in that timescale, the pea retains all its vitamins and minerals.
“A 150 minute pea is a pea grown to the highest quality standard there is – in the UK and indeed in the world,” Richard said. “It’s a precision operation to make sure harvesting and freezing are done as efficiently as possible”.
Every morning at 4am field peas are tested for tenderness to ensure they are ready to be harvested. If they are, a team of huge pea harvesters are sent to the field.
Richard continued: “The crop will only be at its optimum for the first 24 hours of its life, so we have to be in with the harvesters on that day. There’s very careful planning that goes into the whole program to make sure it flows and that we’re not stopping and starting.”
The pea harvesters run 24-hours a day for up to two months to ensure the peas are at their optimum freshness. The harvesters weigh in excess of 12 tonnes each but are fitted with tracks so that they have minimal impact on the soil. They are also steered around the field by satellite to ensure the three harvesters work in tandem to clear the field in the most efficient fashion.
The harvester unloads the peas into the tractor and trailer when it has two tonnes in the hopper. That means that every time it tips, there are enough peas to fill 4,000 500g bags of frozen peas.
All of Richard’s peas are produced to the standard set by Red Tractor Assurance which means food has been produced with full traceability back to the field the product was grown in. It also means the peas are produced with environmental protection in mind. Red Tractor farmers minimise their impact by the careful application of fertilisers and only using pesticides when necessary
Richard said: “We’re Red Tractor Assured because we want to demonstrate the quality standards that we grow our crops to. And the Red Tractor means not only is it grown in the UK, but it’s grown to very exacting quality standards.”
Stuart Ashton, Agricultural Manager at Pinguin Foods, where the peas are frozen, said: “Even as the processor we’re regularly audited to make sure the products that we are selling to our customers meet the standards of the Red Tractor Assurance Scheme. What I can’t emphasis enough is the relationship we have with the grower to make this operation a success.”
You can support quality Red Tractor farmers by looking for the logo on food packaging next time you go shopping.