Riverford Wicked Leeks

modern machinery & a special award

A few days of dry, bright weather last week allowed us to finish planting the over wintered onions and garlic. We still have 70 acres of potatoes in the ground; most days it is too wet for the huge modern harvesters to move and the harvesting webs that sieve the potatoes block quickly in wet soil.

25 years ago, when harvesters were tiny and relied on humans to do much of the sieving, we could bend over, put up our collars and carry on regardless, filling a sack dragged between the legs. None of us are keen to go back to that, so we will wait and hope for a break in the rain. We have some fine crops of carrots; they tend to be grown in sandier, better drained land and the harvester grips the tops and pulls rather than lifting the whole bed and sieving, making harvest less weather dependent. Again we have come a long way since the days I used to pay people piecework to pull the crop by hand. A tonne a day each was a fair day. Today, with the help of a tops lifter, we harvest 120 tonnes a day, with one person who seldom leaves the tractor cab. It’s wonderful to see those roots being loosened by a shear, while rubber belts grip the tops and raise them to the blades, dropping the carrots onto a conveyor which takes them to the trailer alongside; poetry in motion.

A few of you may have woken early last Sunday to me extolling the virtues of radicchio on Radio 4’s Farming Today. To my pride and delight I am one of three finalists for the BBC Farmer of the Year award. I am a little disturbed by how much I want to win. We will also be on BBC1 Countryfile on 28th October at 6pm. The award is announced at the NEC as part of the BBC Good Food Show on 28th November. Tickets are available if you’d like to come (search ‘BBC Food and Farming’ on Facebook or go to www.bbc.co.uk/foodawards). 

Guy Watson