RED TRACTOR Week ran from September 15 to 21 and helped raise awareness of the importance of local produce and its required standards.
Observer reporter Jonny Bonell went to Vicarage Nurseries in Bretforton to find out more about how the business has grown and how they meet the objectives set by the food assurance event.
“WE WANT to grow, it’s our ambition to grow, but we have to have a good system in place,” Bal Padda proudly said of the award-winning strawberry farm on Weston Road.
Having walked around the 300-acre site it was difficult to see how they could in terms of size, but in terms of business stature the commercial director spoke with a passion to expand what has become his pride and joy.
The Padda’s took over a 2.6-acre plot of land in 1996 which consisted mainly of a glass house but 18 years later Vicarage Nurseries are working on land more than 100 times that size and are producing more than 800 tonnes of first class soft fruit.
And their work certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed.
In their office at the front of the farm, a glass cabinet stands containing the 2010 Most Ambitious Grower award, the 2012 Soft Fruit Grower of the Year award and the 2014 Soft Grower of the Year award.
Those three awards came on the back of being approached by ASDA in September 2009 to become the first UK grower to serve the supermarket giant directly via International Produce Limited (IPL).
“How they have helped us grow and helped us get our British produce into the stores was just amazing,” Bal said. “They did things way beyond what people think.
“It wasn’t all about being the lowest cost with them either, they look at how you can do it with what you can afford. Without them I wouldn’t be sat here talking to you today, they have been with us through the good times and the bad times.
“From what we see, if that’s their way of working, it’s a great way of doing it.”
The strawberries grown in Bretforton are shelved in the Pershore ASDA along with the superstores in Smethwick and Dudley and as Bal said himself, ‘what more do you want?’
But that hard graft to get their produce on the shelves doesn’t stop.
Although Red Tractor Week is just seven days a year, there is a high standard required to meet their assurance and the farm receives regular visits to keep hold of their ‘assured’ logo.
“There’s always improvements to make though,” Bal added. “Every year you need to improve, every year there’s something new added on to, they add another thing you have to do.
“The standard is changing year on year and that’s why you need regular checks.”
It’s not just the work on the farm which has helped boost Vicarage Nurseries profile as Bal – an avid football fan – dreamed up an idea to bring his horticultural world and sporting ambition together.
The end product was Growers United FC tournament. 32 teams battled it out at Evesham’s Jubilee Stadium back in June for the third year running and helped raise £6,500 for Birmingham Children’s Hospital and Cancer Research UK, while bringing
together the best fruit and vegetables the Vale is famed for producing.
His aim is to take the event national and talking to him I saw no reason why that could not be achieved.
“We are proud to be from this area, it’s a brilliant place to work. We had to build a farm from zero but we are proud of what we have done and were we have got to,” he added.
The Vicarage Nurseries team. (s)
Strawberry pickers at the farm. (s)