* This exclusive news story first appeared in the Sunday Herald. The video above is by @ScranMedia in an exclusive collaboration.
The Annamay cocktail and Sweetelle baby plum tomatoes have been commercially grown at Standhill Farm near Hawick using biomass and biogas energy in bespoke glasshouses fitted with special glazing to dissipate higher levels of sunlight right down to the roots of the plants. Water comes from rainfall, and pollination is carried out by bees brought into the glasshouse. This sustainable, eco-friendly growing method is unique in Scotland and is aimed at overcoming the challenges of commercial tomato-growing in this country.
Under the Scotty Brand label, the on-trend small, deep red tomatoes on the vine will appear on supermarket shelves from April until November. Outlets include Waitrose, Lidl and Morrisons.
The Clyde Valley was famous in the 1950s and 1960s for producing enough tomatoes to feed the entire country, with hundreds of growers and acres of industrial-sized glasshouses covering the landscape. But cheaper imports from the Netherlands and the rest of the EU, plus a reluctance on the part of supermarkets to support local produce, put most of the growers out of business. A recent attempt to revive the Clyde Valley Tomatoes brand was short-lived and ended in 2015.
Grower Jim Shanks has been developing his innovative method for four years and has been working with Scottish Brand since last summer. He told the Sunday Herald: “Times have changed and people want Scottish. They remember there used to be tomatoes grown here. Support from supermarkets for local produce is edging along and is better than it was.
“I picked the first crop on Thursday and they taste fresh and full of flavour, better than Dutch by a country mile.
“People lead different lives now and they no longer want the classic round tomato. They want tasty, on-the-vine small tomatoes they can put in their lunchbox, and they want local.
“I’ve done my homework over the last four years and I’m doing this in a way that nobody else has tried in Scotland before."
“Biomass heating comes from woodchip boilers and biogas electricity is generated from cow slurry. This method is used throughout Sweden and Denmark. Fifteen years ago, standard glass panes let in about 85% light. My Dutch glass lets in 95.5% light and it diffuses it so that it doesn’t just hit the top of the crop. Even on a blazing Scottish summer’s day it won’t cast shadows. It means the entire plant gets the light, right down to the roots.”
Rockroot or coir growing material is standard practice as it allows the roots to grow deep and free. Growing tomatoes commercially in soil is rare, even in France and Italy.
Michael Jarvis, head of marketing for Scotty Brand, said: “We have been searching for a suitable commercial tomato growing partner for a while. Scotland’s tomato-growing industry was previously a thriving industry and we are thrilled to see that tomatoes are growing commercially again in the country.”
Andrew Fairlie added: “Scotland was once famous for growing tomatoes and it’s good to see the industry back in production. What makes them especially attractive to me is that they’re local, and grown in such an environmentally-friendly and sustainable way, which is very much the way the market is going.”