Vicarage Nurseries – Red Tractor Strawberry Farm
Vicarage Nurseries was set up as a soft fruit farm by Makhan Singh Padda in 1996. From the initial two acres that produced Makhan’s first harvest in 1997, the farm has grown to span 150 acres and to produce 1,400 tonnes of strawberries every year for UK supermarkets across the country.
With this impressive business growth, the day-to-day operations have become a family affair. Makhan’s son Bal now works as Commercial Director and close family friend Jas Singh working as Operations Director. The includes enforcing the Red Tractor Standards on site which he says are key to show people that they deliver their strawberries to the very best quality:
“I buy Red Tractor myself because I know that the products that carry the logo have been produced to the same standards that we use here and I can trust them as a result. I also recommend it to others as an indicator that food is both safe to eat and grown to a high level of quality.”
Jas believes that operating to Red Tractor’s standards makes the quality of food he produces much higher: “We do not just focus on profitability which is often a key driver in the industry. We limit the use of pesticides as we know this is increasingly important for UK customers. We have a balanced, integrated crop management program at the core of our soft fruit production.”
Following Red Tractor Standards also ensure that the strawberries are grown responsibly to ensure minimum impact on the environment. The team use natural measures such as biologicals which are predatory insects used to control harmful insects that might attack the strawberry plants and their fruit. Any use of water and pesticides has to be documented in detail to share at their annual Red Tractor audit to demonstrate that they are being used responsibly and only when unavoidable.
Despite the farm being much bigger in size, Jas still applies the same high level of care and attention as they did on the smaller site. He believes “This attention to detail is what gives us award-winning fruit, we treat the plants like our children to ensure they have the best care and all that they need to grow.”
The strawberries are grown in different types of tunnels to provide more shelter from bad weather which has become the team’s biggest challenge. The storm in early 2019 set the season back by two months and, whilst they used to harvest for the main six-week season, they now supply from the end of April to mid-November which means they are growing and harvesting during even more unpredictable months and weather.
Jas, Bal and the team work constantly to protect against the weather by introducing measures such as covering the tunnels in fleeces in the colder months. Bal says “It is always easier to introduce something new to help to prevent weather damage rather than trying to repair after the event.” As part of this planning process, the farm is looking to introduce smart irrigation from next year which will ensure that the plants are permanently being monitored.