Glasshouse clears first planning hurdle

Scottish Borders Council approves proposal of planning application for 1.6ha tomato glasshouse.

Tomatoes: sustainably grown
Tomatoes: sustainably grown

Scottish Borders farmer Jim Shanks has passed the first hurdle in his bid to establish a 1.6ha tomato glasshouse fuelled by an adjoining anaerobic digester.

Scottish Borders Council approved the so-called "proposal of planning application" earlier this month.

Shanks told Grower that the process had been "relatively straightforward", adding: "The planning officer is onside. Some people will object to anything being built, but most of the locals are delighted as it will bring jobs and investment."

The site will be at a low level in the rolling Borders landscape to minimise visual impact but will require some levelling. The biogas unit will be powered by slurry and silage from the farm, eventually extending to "old tomato vines", said Shanks.

He intends to submit more detailed plans for approval next spring, while the start date "could be next year or the year after", he added.

Shanks won a Nuffield Scholarship in 2009-10 to investigate energy in agriculture, with a focus on combining biogas with glasshouse horticulture. "We are always looking for new enterprises and it's great to look at a crop that doesn't rely on subsidies," he said.

"The starting point for this is you can't be paying for heat - it has to be financially sustainable in that way. But when I started looking into tomatoes, doors opened.

"Demand is there for Scottish-grown tomatoes and they are the most consistently profitable glasshouse crop. People will pay a bit more for something locally and sustainably grown. One retailer has already said they are keen on speciality mini or cherry tomatoes on the vine."

But Shanks admitted: "We are short on light up here and one per cent more light means one per cent more crop. But what really did for the old Clyde valley growers was the energy costs."

Producer shortlisted

Clyde Valley Tomatoes founder David Craig is one of four producers shortlisted in the food category of the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Awards.

Founded in 2012, the company is already Scotland's largest tomato grower, selling to Waitrose and Morrisons as well as independent retailers.

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