Soft fruit Grower of the Year

Winner: Vicarage Nurseries

Vicarage Nurseries, soft fruit grower of the year - image: Vicarage Nurseries
Vicarage Nurseries, soft fruit grower of the year - image: Vicarage Nurseries

It did not look good for Vicarage Nurseries in 2009. Having lined up a deal to become the first UK grower to serve Asda directly via International Produce Limited (IPL), the skies opened and threw down one of the worst winters in more than 30 years. But there was no turning back and such an expansion called for an increase in its staff roll from 40 to 400.

By spring 2010, the first strawberry was picked for Asda and IPL and feedback was good. Vicarage Nurseries was judged best-performing direct grower, but sun or rain it has refused to bask in the glory. Last year, the 120ha business promoted the new Portola strawberry, increased its product range by introducing raspberries and bumped up output across fruits.

With new crops, new technology and more hectarage, the business is pushing horizons. But when it comes to appointing staff, it rarely strays into pastures new but looks within to reward existing staff with a good grasp of soft fruit and the firm's work practices. This has helped ensure consistency for a business started in 1966 by Indian farmer Makhan Singh Padda.

Before the Asda deal, Vicarage Nurseries employed a handful of staff, undertook no trials and grew 200 tonnes of two varieties of strawberry. Last year the team produced 800 tonnes of class one strawberries and 37 tonnes of raspberries, totalling eight varieties. It was also pushing boundaries by carrying out five trials.

Also last year, a business restructure beefed up technology and streamlined practices to give teams more control over quality and better reporting procedures. This has enabled the company to put in place a continuous improvement plan that should ensure more than stability. It throws open even greater likelihood that Vicarage Nurseries will continue to grow and prosper.

Highly Commended

AJ Busby & Son

Botanicoir produces coir products for commercial soft fruit and salad growers. Our washed and buffered range has earned an excellent reputation from our growers due to its high quality and consistency. Our aim is to give growers peace of mind by supplying reliable products where the plants thrive.


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