Woodhall Growers Ltd

With 40 years of mixed farming knowledge from the late (pre-chemical!) 1950s and 12 years of organic farming experience from 1997 to 2009, we have extensive experience in growing vegetables organically.

Woodhall Growers Ltd (WGL) was setup in 2001 as a specialist leek and calabrese producer. At this stage we had 29 ha of organic production out of a total of 200 ha of cropping. By the 2009/10 season we had converted approximately 265Ha of our own land to organic production and, through partnerships with local landowners, we have access to an additional 435 ha of organic land.

Innovations have been integral to the prevention of pests and diseases on our organic land. These include a flexible system of fertility building, variety of choice, and careful site selection for particular crops.

In 2008, after organic sales had plateaued, we had the opportunity to develop a conventional salad onion business. In the 2010 season this business had grown to an area of 310 acres supplying the multiples with around 6 million bunches of salad onions.

Farm Infrastructure:

Our main farming area is located 6 miles west of junction 11 of the M6 on the Staffordshire/Shropshire border. The soil type is sandy loam, and water is predominately sourced from boreholes.

The on-farm packhouse is close to major arterial roads (M54 and M6), allowing good transport links to major cities.

Our 5 year organic rotation typically consists of:

  • 2 years grass / clover ley – in order to introduce fertility, prevent disease and improve the soil structure
  • 1 year organic leeks
  • 1 year organic brassicas / potatoes / beetroot
  • 1 year arable – wheat, oats and triticale

Employees: 16 staff are in permanent employment with the company, with a further 120 seasonal staff employed throughout the year through 3 GLA accredited agencies.

Historically, product was harvested and trunked down to G’s Marketing’s Barway site for final packing and labelling. However, 2007/08 saw the introduction of a team dedicated to on-farm packing.

Environmental Points of Interest:

Woodhall Growers Ltd had approximately 160 acres entered into the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. In 2011 we applied for this area to be entered into the HLS scheme. Water meadows have been created in order to encourage wading birds to nest. There are more than 6 pairs of lapwings that nest annually. Snipe are prevalent, although none have been found to be nesting yet. Curlews have not returned, but we live in hope! Skylarks are in abundance in a number of fields. Owls and birds of prey are flourishing due to the increasing numbers of many species of small mammals.

There is an unusual species of buttercup around one area that is being carefully preserved. There are also several ancient trees on the estate (including one very old yew – true age unknown) that have tree preservation orders in place.

All hedges have been allowed to grow to above 80 feet high (except for some located at road sides). Planting new hedges and trees is also part of our annual stewardship work commitment. These are clearly providing nesting sites and foodstuffs, and after only a few years, pheasants and partridges are thriving.

A 1 ha area has been sown at two farm sites for Operation Bumblebee. Sown in the autumn, there is concern about the number of weeds within the seed mix (e.g. nettles!).

Main Challenges:

  • Weeds, especially couch grass and docks
  • Disease, eg rust and thrip
  • Labour costs
  • Producing uniform crops
  • Fertility building