R&L Holt Tomatoes
On the 24th July 14 members visited the vast glasshouse complex outside Evesham where the Holt family of Springhill Nurseries grows tomatoes for the British market. We were greeted by Felicity Holt and taken round the glasshouses by Chris, the manager of the site. The length of the glasshouses seen from inside was truly staggering, as was the length of the tomato plants - root systems up to 14 metres long. The plants are suspended above long plastic troughs which contain the water and nutrients the they need, The condition of the plants is checked frequently and the nutrient balance adjusted when necessary. There are several varieties of tomato, all of different sizes and colours. British growers supply only 15% of the UK market. Tomatoes are grown in several parts of the country and as far north as the North-East. Heating costs are one reason UK production is at a disadvantage with southern Europe. We saw a huge boiler system fed automatically with bio-mass fuel (wood chippings). The Holts are always looking for ways to reduce costs. The total workforce is just over 70, working two shifts, and almost all are immigrants. There are basically two jobs in the glasshouses - tending the plants and de-leafing them as the trusses of tomatoes ripen along the plants, and rotating the rows of plants and picking the fruit. Wages range from about £350 a week up to £500, based on piecework.Three days a week are spent on maintenance and plant condition, including rotating the plants along the rows to give them equal exposure to light, and three days are spent picking. At the end of the growing season - autumn - all the plants are removed and new ones replace them for the following season. After the tour we met Laura and Rick Holt for questions, and they were very open and interesting about their business. They only grow the produce, selling it all to Evesham Vale Growers (the Bille family) who do all the negotiations and marketing with the supermarkets. So the Holts have to make money on their fixed prices, hence the focus on costs.
After the tour we adjourned to the Craycombe Farm cafe for tea and cakes to round off a very enjoyable visit. Thanks to Oliver and Joyce for organising it for us.