Updates about the Horticulture Wales project, along with industry news and opinion.

Bedfordshire Growers Study Tour Review

09 April 2015

Last month, we led a group of Welsh field vegetable growers on a visit to Bedfordshire Growers so they could learn first-hand from one of the UK’s most successful (and well-established) fresh produce co-operatives.

Horticulture Wales study tour to Bedfordshire GrowersThe group’s Managing Director Stephen Hedderly and Commercial Director Tim Elcombe started the day by providing us with a brief overview of the organisation, which was founded in 1963 and is now a £20 million plus turnover a year business predominantly focused on supplying onions and lettuce.

The growers were treated to a comprehensive tour of Bedfordshire Growers’ main HQ in Biggleswade, including a packhouse which incorporates seven onion production lines, specialist crop grading and packaging equipment, and a mix of ambient, refrigerated and controlled atmosphere storage facilities.

Group 11 (1000px * 750px)Grader Red Onions (750px * 1000px)

Following lunch in the organisation’s on-site farm shop and café, which accounts for around 5% of the co-ops’ overall annual turnover, we made the short journey to the first of two farms we would be visiting that fall under the Bedfordshire Growers banner.

FB Parrish and Sons has a long-standing relationship with the co-operative, in fact Nick Parrish is its current Chairman. The farm is the largest shallot grower in the UK, and as Farm Manager Paul Cripsey explained to us, it has also been a major player in a whole host of product innovations in recent years. The Parrishes were heavily involved with a DEFRA project that helped to pioneer the development of ‘Supasweet’ sweet onions, while they were the first to introduce echalions or banana shallots – an easier to peel version of a normal shallot – into the UK market. The farm was also one of the first in the country to utilise GPS satellite technology.

Parrish 3 (1000px * 750px)Parrish - baby echalion (1000px * 750px)

Our tour’s final visit was to nearby Cardington and The Lakes Farm, home to the Findlays – Alastair was Bedfordshire Growers’ Chairman from 1994 to 2008, while his son William is the group’s current Deputy Chairman. We got to find about the phenomenal response Alastair had enjoyed in the weeks prior to our visit following the launch of his new sweet red onion hybrid, the culmination of more than 20 years’ R&D, and a classic example of how product innovation has played a key role in Bedfordshire Growers’ ongoing success.

Findlay trial tunnel (750px * 1000px)Alastair Findlay's "no tears" sweet red onion

Marketed as the world’s first “no tears” onion due to its low pungency, it has received significant media coverage both here in the UK (Daily Telegraph, BBC News, ITV’s ‘Lorraine’ breakfast show) and from further afield – Alastair and Stephen Hedderly were interviewed for Fox Business News in the United States, while we learned that the farm had also recently played host to a production crew from Brazilian television.

Here are some video highlights of our visit:

For further information about Bedfordshire Growers why not read these two in-depth articles based on our initial visit to the organisation last autumn:

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