The humble carrot is a food staple at Christmas for households across the country yet many consumers will not appreciate the complex journey that carrots and parsnips will have taken before they arrive on dinner plates this festive season.
Strawson Limited is a third generation family farming business specialising in cereal and vegetable production across the UK. The business was founded in 2002 and is run by Mark and Jane Strawson with the help of their children Harry and Annie. The business manages circa 4,500 hectares with growing operations.
The carrots and parsnips they produce are grown specifically for UK supermarkets. They start the carrot growing season on the Suffolk coast, move to Norfolk and then to Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Shropshire. They complete the season in Scotland with late-strawed carrots, thus supplying supermarkets all year round.
Once harvested the carrots and parsnips are packed in a high capacity purpose built packhouse. Here the carrots and parsnips are washed, cooled, size graded and packed in varying pack sizes ready for distribution to British supermarkets and the wholesale trade.
“It’s a year round operation for us,” says Harry Strawson. “Our facility processes a thousand tonnes of carrots a week and two hundred tonnes of parsnips on average. In the run up to Christmas we will see a 400 per cent uplift on parsnip production and 200 per cent increase in carrots on average.”
Increasingly technology and advanced robotics is simplifying this process but there remains a high number of dedicated staff who are required to undertake a variety of roles. This can range from manually cutting off roots from parsnips by hand, to removing small stones or grit which may have eluded the machinery. Around 200 staff work in the packhouse.
“Over the last 20 years the arable, potatoes, carrots or parsnips sectors have been waiting for automation,” comments Harry. “We have seen that develop quite heavily on the arable side through telematics and GPS etcetera, but for actual processing it has been tricky. The technology is now coming in very quickly and it is about how you fund that investment. We have to consider the risk factors versus the rewards.”
In house technical and agronomy teams are continually working to ensure the produce at their processing facility is the best quality. Any carrots which do not meet the supermarket grade are put into nets for the horse feed industry and distributed around the country.
The family has ambitious plans for expansion of the business that will allow for greater volumes of produce to go through their vegetable processing facility and they are also seeking additional land to grow more vegetables.
The environment is also an important consideration to them with approximately 1000 acres of land at the farm in environmental schemes. They are adapting their farming practices towards regenerative agriculture, moving less soil and where possible using less fertiliser and chemicals. There has been significant investment in solar energy and they grow a range of biomass crops for both anaerobic digestion and their own willow coppice biomass boiler.
CLA members will have an opportunity to visit the Strawson carrot operation during a visit planned for April 30, 2023 as part of the Nottinghamshire AGM.