Interview: Alistair Ewan, vice-chairman, brassica growers' association
By Rachel Sixsmith Thursday, 17 January 2008
A new campaign to raise the profile of brassicas grown in the UK was launched by the Brassica Growers' Association (BGA) at its biennial conference in Warwick last week.
BGA vice-chairman Alistair Ewan explains that, although it has been talked about by the group for years, such a campaign is a "totally new thing for us".
"We have not had a promotions programme before but now we are finally under way with it," he says. "We realised that, although we have fantastic products, no one else is going to promote them for us so we, the brassica growers, decided that we must do it. It's imperative that we try to bring up the levels of knowledge of brassicas."
He says that the UK eats an average of 4kg of broccoli per head per annum - a figure that Ewan hopes will increase through the campaign.
"Four kilograms is nothing," he says. Dozens of studies have revealed that broccoli alone is known to have cancer-preventive effects and contain vitamins A, B, C and E plus folic acid, beta carotenes, fibre, protein, zinc, selenium, manganese, tryptophan, potassium, phosphorus, omega-3 fatty acids, iron and calcium.
Ewan hopes to make consumers aware of these health benefits by selling seasonal crops to promote them.
"We are not singling out any one particular brassica from the others," he says. "We will be promoting everything."
The campaign will be inspired by other successful vegetable campaigns, such as those for carrots, shallots and asparagus that have been led by PR to the vegetable industry Pam Lloyd.
The BGA has wasted no time in employing Lloyd to lead its campaign and has also appointed a sub-committee to help "drive it along".
Ewan is keen to see articles on the health benefits and best use of brassicas in magazines and newspapers. He says: "We have not got a high disposable income to run a TV campaign, but we would obviously like celebrity chefs to get involved with our recipes."
He hopes the campaign will turn around what is currently a gloomy predicament for brassica growers in the UK. He says: "One of the points I made at the conference is that, for the first time in the past 10 years, alternative crops like cereals are showing significant reward. (The financial rewards) are multiplying by two or three times from what they were two years ago. Suddenly growers have a very good alternative to growing brassicas. The risk (of these alternative crops) is low, as are the stress levels, so for growers to continue with brassicas they have to see some benefit in it. The message I was getting across to growers was: 'Don't wait until it's too late.' We need some incentive in the marketplace."
Such a scenario is a sad one for someone as passionate about brassicas as Ewan. As the director of East of Scotland Growers - part of the co-operative of fresh vegetable growers producing and processing the largest amount of broccoli in Britain - he has invested several decades of his life in the crop.
He is, however, reluctant to talk about his role at the co-operative, stressing that it has nothing to do with work he does for BGA. "I am not on the BGA for any special reward. I just want to see things push forward."
He says the launch of the campaign follows a difficult season last year for brassica growers because of the extremely poor weather conditions, which brought on various diseases like club root and head rot.
Ewan says sprout crops had a lot of leaf disease problems such as leaf spot. "These sorts of things have been difficult to control in the wet conditions we have had. There has been a lot of disease pressure on growers."
Fortunately, on a positive note, Ewan says that there is a high commitment to agronomy from research institutes such as Warwick HRI. He says the current focus is on trying to find new ways of dealing with old pests, such as controlling cabbage root fly without the use of organophosphorus compounds.
"We have got to be amazed at the amount of work that's being done on new technology, so there is always hope," he says. "But we need more than just science to keep us going. We need the help of the industry to ensure growers get the rewards they need."
Ewan has had a "life-long" career in brassica produce. He studied at Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) in Edinburgh before becoming director of East Of Scotland Growers - a Fife-based co-operative of fresh vegetable growers producing and processing vegetables. He has been involved with the Brassica Growers' Association for many years and was re-elected as vice-chairman at last week's conference.
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