Ben Drummond, fruit supplier, Herefordshire

‘Lockdown I think has been good for local demand’

Ben Drummond’s family farming business is a diverse one. Spread over 25 sites in Herefordshire, the Midlands, Yorkshire and Norfolk, E.C. Drummond covers poultry, fruit and arable production.

Ben manages the Herefordshire operation near Ross-on-Wye, which covers 1,659 hectares (4,100 acres), split into 324ha (800 acres) of potatoes, 1,093ha (2,700 acres) of arable, and 243ha (600 acres) of soft and top fruit.

But it is the fruit enterprise which grows and packs directly for the retailer, totalling 2,000 tonnes of strawberries, 70t of cherries, and 500-600t of apples, mostly Gala. Mr Drummond: “The strawberries are grown in polytunnels in substrate. We pack on-site and send to the depot.” Cherries are also grown in polytunnels and picked into punnets.

Picking takes places almost the entire year, with strawberries harvested from the end of March right through until early November, cherries picked from the last week in June to the middle of August. Apple picking starts immediately and runs through to the end of October.

An army of 250 seasonal staff and 100 permanent staff is needed, says Ben, who like many have been presented with labour challenges.

“It has been a bit of a struggle to recruit this year but we have got there in the end, although through other means. About 15 per cent of our seasonal workers at the moment are British, which is relatively unusual, plus a few Italians, Portuguese and other nationalities who live in the UK. Normally we are almost entirely reliant on Romanians and Bulgarians.”

The business is always making investments and Ben will be looking at mechanisation and water storage in the future. With plenty of sun the last couple of weeks strawberry sales have been very good and he remains optimistic.

“Lockdown I think has been good for local demand and even if people thinking more about where their food comes from is a short-term thing, it is no bad thing.”


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