Know Your Norfolk Farmers and Growers

Sugar

Norfolk’s sugar harvest happens in autumn and winter. This year we are growing about 3000 tonnes of sugar beet on a contract with British Sugar. We’ve been growing sugar beet on our family farm near Diss in South Norfolk for 35 years. My father, John Orford, has worked with the sugar beet crop for over 50 years.

In Spring we prepare the soil ready to plant the seed. We take care of each little sugar beet all summer as they grow the leaves to catch sunlight. They gradually produce sugar in the roots below ground. We harvest – from our fields and 2000 acres on other farms nearby – from mid September. Usually the last of our beet are delivered to the factory early to mid Feb, and by mid March we hope to be planting the next year’s crop of sugar beet.

Sugar beet is an interesting and challenging crop. Frost in Spring can damage the young plants. Constant monitoring is necessary for disease and weed control. Harvesting during the winter months can be difficult on heavier, sticky soils. If we’re not careful the heavy machinery we use will squash or compact the soil making it hard for whatever crop we plant next to grow well.

Once the sugar beet have been lifted from the ground and the green tops cut off, they are taken by lorry to the factory at Bury St Edmunds. There they are washed and processed and the juice extracted is stored in large silos. This can then be crystallised to make the sugar which is sold to food processors and manufacturers such as Cadbury and Coca-Cola.

Many by-products are made from sugar beet. The pulp left behind after the sugar juice is extracted is used for animal feed or to put into the AD plants that generate renewable energy. The soil that comes in on the roots is collected and sold. The lime used during processing is also collected and sent back to farms to be used on the land to improve the quality of the soil. At the Wissington sugar beet factory in West Norfolk the heat and carbon dioxide produced is recycled to grow tomatoes.

Our sugar is available in supermarkets. Look for the Silver Spoon brand with the Red Tractor Logo on the packet and you will know it’s sugar from sugar beet grown on farms, like ours, in the UK.

Alison Lawson, Hill Farm

Ice cream

We are a family of dairy farmers on a farm right in the middle of Norfolk, just off the A47 between Dereham and Norwich. We have just bought up a neighbouring dairy herd to add to the cows that we milk every day. Our aim is to bring both herds together on our farm with a new purpose built dairy, which you can see if you drive along the A47.

We make delicious Ice Cream with some of the milk from our cows. We currently make 2500 litres of ice cream a year under the Norfolk Farmhouse Ice Cream brand and that will grow to over 5,000 litres a year with our new premium range – Dann’s Luxury Norfolk Ice Cream . And there will be be 100,000 Dann’s lollies a year.

We have dairy farming in our blood. Looking after dairy cows is hard work, every day of the year. Seeing a quality product come from our own milk, our own free range eggs together with quality local produce like delicious fruits is very rewarding.

Our biggest challenge these days is surviving in the dairy industry when it is in such crisis. With falling milk prices it is easy to get very despondent about the future. But we are trying to buck the trend and help to build the future of Norfolk farming. So where most people would run a mile from investing in keeping more cows we are choosing to go ahead and expand our dairy! It’s a leap of faith, but I believe that my son Alex can make it work. This is his future.

You can buy our delicious Ice Cream in independent outlets around Norfolk. On our website we have a page that lists our stockists. We are also pleased to say that our Ice Cream is going on sale in all of the East Anglian Co-operative stores so they all stock it by Spring 2016. We can also be found at all sorts of great events around Norfolk.

Simon Dann

Onions

We grow onions in Norfolk just on the outskirts of Norwich and in other places. I am Senior Farms Manager for Elveden Farms which has its headquarters just outside Thetford.

The onion is the most used vegetable in the world. It’s very versatile. You can use it in a multitude of recipes. You can cook with it and you can eat it raw.

Growing onions is a really big challenge. They grow from very, very small seeds so we have to nurture them carefully.

When you look at an onion field in the early stages of growth you hardly see the young plants. They’re so small. By mid June onwards they start to really stretch their leaves, reaching for the sky. We have to feed them with fertiliser and in the driest time we water, or irrigate, the onion fields with just the right amount of moisture.

As they grow they start to fill out and in late July each plant starts to swell at the base to produce the bulb. By the beginning of September we have fields of nice big round onion bulbs. To harvest the onions we use our machines to lift them gently out of the soil and leave them on the surface to dry out ready to sell or store. To celebrate the onion we hold an Onion Festival on the farm at Elveden in early September. It gives us the chance to show our visitors how we grow the onions and all our other crops.

You can buy our onions in our own shop at Elveden Estate just off the A11. If you go into Sainsbury’s look for the onions with my name, Andrew Francis, on the bag.

Enjoy your Norfolk onions and Norfolk Food and Drink!

Andrew Francis of Elveden Farms

Strawberries

We grow our lovely strawberries in Norfolk, and into Cambridgeshire. As C.R Melton & we farm fields in King’s Lynn, Sandringham, Narborough and Emneth.

We grow around six different varieties of strawberries. They all peak – or are at their best – at different points of the season.

As you will know from the strawberries you taste, the flavours and textures vary between varieties of the fruit.

The variety Capri tends to have a more crunchy flesh. A variety like Elsanta has a much softer texture and sweeter flavour.

I really enjoy the challenge of strawberry growing. Each year new obstacles crop up for us to try and overcome.

The main challenge in growing strawberries would have to be the unpredictability of the weather. Traditionally, or when we first started to grow strawberries, British summers would produce warm temperatures for months at a time.

However as time’s gone on the weather has become more and erratic. In turn this makes growing a successful crop that little bit harder.

Shoppers can buy our wonderful strawberries from Knights Hill Farm Shop, on the outskirts of King’s Lynn in the west of Norfolk. Picked fresh each morning they’re delivered straight to the shop for the utmost freshness.

You will also find a vast range of delicious fresh produce, butchers counter, freshly baked bread and much more!

Lucy Melton of C.R. Melton and Son

Tomatoes

Here at Cornerways Nursery, based in deepest Norfolk not far from Downham Market, we grow 140 million eco-friendly tomatoes every year.

We use the excess carbon dioxide and heat from the next door British Sugar factory to make the perfect growing conditions for the plants. Our tomatoes are both carbon friendly and delicious!

There are a number of challenges we face throughout the year. These include pests and diseases, inconsistent weather and keeping every glasshouse roof clean. 1% of light equates to 1% of yield so a dirty roof can really affect our crop.

One of the most important ingredients to grow tomatoes, aside from light, heat and carbon dioxide, is water. We collect rain water that falls on the roofs in two large lagoons and use this to water our crop. With no rain, we wouldn’t have a business.

Growing tomatoes is not for the faint hearted, but can be very rewarding!

We are fortunate to have fantastic retail customers across East Anglia, so you shouldn’t find it too hard to find our tomatoes on sale.

We are the reigning Supplier of the Year at the East of England Coop, and also the 2015 Supplier of the Year at Budgens Holt and Budgens Aylsham (Part of the CT Baker Group) We also supply a range of Norfolk’s best farm shops. If you are out for dinner in one of the county’s brilliant restaurants, such as The Hoste in Burnham Market, Morston Hall, Titchwell Manor, The Orange Tree in Thornham or Market Bistro in Kings Lynn, look out for our tomatoes in the dishes on the menu.

Tomatoes are very good for you. Enjoy the taste of our Norfolk-grown Cornerways tomatoes.

Andrew Mackay, Cornerways Tomatoes