Work has just been completed on the second stage of an ambitious project in Essex to grow salad crops under cover.

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The 10-hectare expansion by Angflor is part of an investment which will eventually see 40 hectares of multi-span polytunnels at Hockley Farm, Frating − helping to meet the challenge of meeting more UK demand with British-grown produce.

Angflor is a joint venture between two growers, J EPiccaver and Anglia Salads, and Florette that is supplying lambs lettuce and other baby leaf salad crops for the bagged salad specialist.

Patrick Bastow, managing director of Angflor, says this is the first time that the crops have been grown under cover on such a scale.

“This is an exciting project,” he said. “We are increasing protected cropping in the UK and this structure is unique at the moment. We are taking field-scale cropping and bringing it inside.”

The first 11 hectare stage of the project was completed last year, with exclusive supply into Florette UK starting at the beginning of the 2014 season.

David Edwards of Anglia Salads said it had taken several years to plan the project, trial the crops, and obtain planning permission, following an initial approach from Florette.

The project has received some Rural Development Programme for England funding but Mr Edwards said the relationship with the processor was invaluable in securing additional finance.

“Five years ago we were probably competing against 20 different growers. Now it’s probably just five competitors,” he said.

“Florette commissioned a supplier survey, which found that there are fewer growers coming into the industry and it’s hard for a business like this to raise finance without a guaranteed supply contract. Greater integration means it’s easier for the business to obtain finance.”

NFU Essex county adviser Adam Scott said Angflor was an example of how forward-thinking farm businesses are working to produce more home-grown produce.

“Research shows that 86% of shoppers are keen to purchase more traceable food produced from British farms, but at the same time self-sufficiency is falling,” he said.

“The latest statistics reveal we are 60% self-sufficient in food, compared with 75% in 1991. If we only relied on UK produce we would have run out on August 7 this year.

“Through our Back British Farming campaign we’re looking to reverse this decline, and Angflor shows what can be done with the use of new techniques and an innovative approach.”

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