Valefresco – Red Tractor Salad Growers
At Valefresco over 400 tonnes of Red Tractor assured salad varieties are produced every week from their four sites in Hampton Lucy. They also have three indoor sites a few miles away in Evesham growing all-year-round pak choi, baby spinach, wild rocket and summer soil grown tomatoes.
Company Director Joe Pilade took us around the fields and talked to us about the huge potential and current challenges for UK salad growers.
Social media has been facilitating and driving public engagement in UK grown food and drink over recent years which is providing a great opportunity to educate people on what growers like Joe do. He believes that this is helping to increase awareness on the importance and value of agriculture to the UK which is making Britons prouder of homegrown food and drink:
“When people can see the care that goes into UK-farmed food and drink, they can understand its value and how important it is. We are what we eat, and people put an emphasis on knowing what they eat and where it comes from as eating is the most important thing a human does.”
“Our Red Tractor accreditation helps us to get the message across to the consumer that our food is probably the safest in the world as it is farmed to Red Tractor standards. These are higher than food standards in other countries and this is really important to the UK public.”
“It is also very important to our customers. The retailers and customers we sell to demand that all of their suppliers be Red Tractor Certified to ensure traceability, safety and responsible farming for all of the salads and vegetables that they sell.”
Valefresco salad products are sold by all major UK retailers and managing the quality of the salad produce they grow alongside increasingly unpredictable weather can be a challenge.
Varieties that grow well one year are not necessarily performing as well during the following years which can make planning and providing a consistent supply difficult to manage.
Joe believes that this is currently one of the main obstacles to improving our food sustainability and he describes the UK an “undiscovered diamond” for food production:
“I think people don’t understand that we can grow most salad and veg in this country and, with the right planning, we could become self-sufficient and grow enough to satisfy the UK’s current consumption.”
In order to produce their salad sustainably, the team does everything that they can to keep the soil healthy so that the next generation can enjoy it. This includes growing wheat every one in three years to help protect the land by rebalancing soil nutrients. They also encourage biodiversity as much as possible:
“We do this by managing the headland, for example we won’t cut nettles in certain areas as they are rich in insects. This means that we have hares, lapwings, deer and badgers that visit our land.”
“This year we tried to encourage pollinators such as bees into the courgette fields by planting strips of flowers in between the plant rows. The trials were quite short but positive and so it is something that we will look to implement next year to help us and to support the UK bee population.”