Suffolk-grown lentils to go on sale as first UK commercial crop poised to be harvested
- Credit: Josiah Meldrum
The UK’s first commercial crops of lentils, grown in farms in Suffolk, Sussex, Hertfordshire, Hampshire and Wiltshire, are set to go on sale this autumn.
Halesworth-based British-grown beans and pulses firm Hodmedod has worked with farmers in Suffolk since 2015 on trial crops leading to 24 acres of organic lentils being grown this year, due to be harvested from the last week of August to mid September.
The first commercial crops of organic and conventionally-farmed lentils have been grown at six farms including two in Suffolk - Wakelyns Agroforestry at Metfield and Home Farm Nacton.
Lentils are a notoriously difficult crop and have never been grown widely in the UK, but Hodmedod points out they are useful for less intensive farming systems as they fix their own nitrogen, attract few pests and diseases and require less water than many other crops. They are not vigorous or high-yielding and need a warm, dry autumn to ripen.
Hodmedod co-founder Josiah Meldrum visited Sweden in 2014 to meet farmers growing beans. He saw their successful lentil trials and heard about a continuing tradition of lentil growing on the island of Gotland.
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Josiah and the Hodmedod team believed if lentils could be grown in Sweden, it should be possible to do so in the UK.
Lentils come in different colours and sizes, including red lentils and speciality varieties such as Puy lentils. Hodmedod’s lentils are a mixture of varieties including Rosanna and Flora and the variety grown in Puy.
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Josiah said: “We’d always wanted to grow lentils but were repeatedly told it just wasn’t possible, then we met some inspiring German lentil farmers who told us to just plant them and see what happened.
“We did and it turns out lentils grow well here, the trick is keeping them weed-free and harvesting them - skills we’ve been learning over the last few years.”
The lentils, available from early October, will come in 500g, 1kg, 3kg and 15kg packs and will be available as organic and conventional. It’s thought the crop has never been commercially grown in the UK before, although it is believed to be on one of the earliest cultivated legumes, with traces found at prehistoric sites in Europe, and evidence suggesting it was grown all over Britain.