Scottish growers, packers and distributors Stewarts of Tayside achieved a remarkable double in last week’s prestigious Grower of the Year Awards 2011, run by Horticulture Week.
Horticulture & Potatoes board chairman Sarah Pettit of award sponsor NFU, brothers William and Jim Stewart, directors and owners of Stewarts of Tayside with their Gold Award for Grower of the Year - Edibles, and Grower of the Year Awards presenter Paul Ross.
The Perthshire based swede and soft fruit producer was awarded Vegetable Grower of the Year and the Gold Award for Grower of the Year - Edibles, the first time the family-run firm has won these industry-leading awards. Jim and William Stewart collected the awards on behalf of the company from popular television presenter Paul Ross in front of some 500 horticultural and business figures at the Lancaster London Hotel on 17 February.
The Vegetable Grower of the Year category was the most eagerly contested award of the evening, with seven finalists nominated. As the winner of this award, Stewarts of Tayside then faced competition from the other five category winners to take the main Grower of the Year - Edibles award.
Stewarts of Tayside is a major supplier of swedes, strawberries and raspberries to the multiple retail, wholesale and export markets, and is the biggest swede grower in the UK. Crops are grown in Perthshire, Angus, Aberdeenshire, Fife, East Lothian, Yorkshire and Kent, with regional partnerships in Wales and the south west of England.
From its facility in Perth, which incorporates a state of the art pack house and a purpose-built 10,000 tonne cold store, produce is delivered throughout the UK and Europe on a daily basis. The firm is the only UK grower that over the last seven years has consistently supplied home-grown swedes all year round, with no need to import. Some 65,000 tonnes of the crop is grown on 900ha across the country.
“Last year was a very challenging one, with temperatures in the early months plummeting to -20ºC, which was repeated in December,” says managing director Jim Stewart. “The investment in cold storage was crucial in ensuring continuous supply to customers during those months, as well as the geographical spread of crops and the dedication and efforts of the company’s 175 hard-working full-time staff.”
A long-standing Stewarts of Tayside supermarket customer says that it is a great example of a family-run farm that has invested in its site, equipment and staff to create a “thriving, modern-thinking and passionate business”. The award judges also said: “The business’s thirst for innovation and its willingness to invest has enabled it to stay well ahead of market developments.”
Recent investments include £2 million on fuel-efficient lorries and £400,000 on wrapping equipment, as well as a continuous £2.5 million-plus investment on insect netting, which has helped reduce insecticide use by 99 per cent. The firm has also designed its own innovative halving machine for swedes, and installed a self-built double box produce handling system to increase efficiency.
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