Strawberry grower awarded £250k grant

A young soft fruit business has received a £250,000 grant from regional development agency Advantage West Midlands (AWM) to build its first production site.

Paul Hawkins  Image: AWM
Paul Hawkins Image: AWM

Herefordshire-based Freshfield Fruits is in the process of building a 13ha eco-friendly strawberry-growing site at Nunnington near Hereford after securing planning permission in December 2008.

Once finished, the facility will be able to produce some 650 tonnes of strawberries a year and employ up to 90 people at the peak of the season. The strawberries will be grown in polytunnels, which will be screened from the road and local residents by trees and bushes.

A system of drains, pumps and pond reservoirs will harvest 10 million gallons of rainwater a year, minimising the need to abstract water from the local River Lugg. Surplus irrigation will be collected by gutters and drains to a central collection point for reuse.

The money from AWM, under the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE), is contributing to an access road, the rainwater harvesting system, the dirty water collection system and a cold store - all of which have cost in excess of £600,000.

AWM RDPE manager Bob Gregson said: "This is a fantastic opportunity to stimulate local business, jobs and the economy in a way that will protect the environment and water supply."

Paul Hawkins, a partner at Freshfield Fruits, is from a family that has been farming in nearby Withington for 100 years. He said: "The support of the development agency has allowed us to make what we believe are the right decisions for both ourselves and the environment by creating sustainability for the long term.

"Without the support of the agency it is questionable whether we would have made the investment in the Nunnington site because it would have left us hugely exposed to changes in legislation at a time when the Environment Agency is seeking to protect our water supplies both in terms of what we take out and put into our rivers.

"The site will be at full capacity by 2012 and employing nearly 100 people at any one time during the season. We anticipate around £400,000 a year will be injected into the local economy through the production of our fruit locally."

Freshfield Fruits, whose two other partners are James Hawkins and former S&A Produce employee Peter Gwynne, has already planted its first crop using the facilities built so far and hopes to start harvesting by the middle of June.

AWM funding

Other regional fresh produce projects funded by AWM include:

- £280,000 to Herefordshire-based Cobrey Farms to help it and nine other local growers meet the growing demand for British asparagus.

- £129,000 funding for Red Star Growers to upgrade and improve the facilities for handling locally-grown fresh produce at the company's packhouse in Birlingham, Worcestershire.

- More than £48,000 to Clives Fruit Farm in Worcestershire to fund a number of new activities, including the modernisation and upgrade of the farm shop with a butchery counter, where locally-reared meat will be sold.

- £750,000 to Wye Fruit for an additional storage facility at Ledbury in Herefordshire to cope with increased volume from English growers.


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