£2m tomato initiative bearing fruit and set to create 20 jobs

A farm near Hawick is being credited with spearheading the latest attempt to revive the Scottish tomato industry.

Friday, 31st March 2017, 9:53 pm
Updated Tuesday, 9th May 2017, 7:07 pm
Jim Shanks at Standhill Farm near Hawick with tomato greenhouse manager Mark Wilkinson.

Annamay cocktail and Sweetelle baby plum tomatoes are being grown commercially at Standhill Farm, north of Minto, using biomass and biogas energy in bespoke glasshouses fitted with special glazing.

They are being grown in a pioneering £2m greenhouse covering four acres of farmland as part of an ambitious project expected to create almost 20 jobs.

To mark that initiative, double Michelin-starred chef Andrew Fairlie will be serving up a gastronomic lunch at the farm next week using its baby plum tomatoes next Wednesday.

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As part of the growing process, water is supplied by rainfall and pollination is carried out by bees brought into the glasshouse.

That sustainable, eco-friendly growing method, unique in Scotland, is aimed at overcoming the challenges of commercial tomato production here.

Going under the Scotty Brand label, its small, deep red tomatoes on the vine will appear on supermarket shelves from April until November.

Outlets stocking them will include Waitrose, Lidl and Morrisons.

Grower Jim Shanks, a fifth-generation farmer and leader of Teviotdale Young Farmers’ Club, has been developing his innovative method for four years and has been working with Airdrie-based umbrella organisation Scotty Brand since last summer.

He said: “Times have changed, and people want Scottish. They remember there used to be tomatoes grown here.

“Support from supermarkets for local produce is edging along and is better than it was.

“I picked the first crop last week, and they taste fresh and full of flavour, better than Dutch by a country mile.

“People lead different lives now, and they no longer want the classic round tomato. They want tasty, on-the-vine small tomatoes they can put in their lunchbox, and they want local.

“I’ve done my homework over the last four years, and I’m doing this in a way that nobody else has tried in Scotland before.

“Biomass heating comes from woodchip boilers, and biogas electricity is generated from cow slurry. This method is used throughout Sweden and Denmark.

“We are delighted to be working with Scotty Brand to grow Scottish tomatoes. We have built a bespoke, state-of-the-art greenhouse to house and grow the crop, and we also brought in our tomato expert, Mark Wilkinson, who has over 28 years’ experience of glasshouse growing and now lives on the farm.

“15 years ago, standard glass panes let in about 85% light. My Dutch glass lets in 95.5% light, and it diffuses it so that it doesn’t just hit the top of the crop.

“Even on a blazing Scottish summer’s day, it won’t cast shadows. It means the entire plant gets the light, right down to the roots.”

Michael Jarvis, head of marketing for Scotty Brand, said: “We have been searching for a suitable commercial tomato-growing partner for a while.

“Scotland’s tomato-growing industry was previously a thriving industry, and we are thrilled to see that tomatoes are growing commercially again in the country.”

Perth-born Mr Fairlie, boss of Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at the Gleneagles Hotel and Resort in Auchterarder, Perthshire, added: “Scotland was once famous for growing tomatoes, and it’s good to see the industry back in production.

“What makes them especially attractive to me is that they’re local and grown in such an environmentally-friendly and sustainable way, which is very much the way the market is going.”

Standhill Farm was originally a purely dairy farm but has diversified to become the only commercial grower of tomatoes in Scotland, seeking to establish in the Borders a now-moribund industry previously based further north in the Clyde Valley.