Farnham & Hersham, Surrey
Horticulture and smallholding
HORTICULTURE & SMALLHOLDING, SURREY: Mark wears two farming hats. From Monday to Friday he’s the general manager of Herbfresh, a grower of herbs and vegetables across 1000 acres (400 hectares) in Surrey, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. The company grows coriander, rosemary, mint, dill, chervil, flat and curly leaf parsley, and spinach on a field scale; and tarragon, thyme, oregano and sage on a smaller specialised unit. Seventy four acres (30 hectares) of Tenderstem broccoli have recently been added, and the company also has a glasshouse producing 125 tonnes of chillies during the summer months. Everything ends up on supermarket shelves or in London’s fresh produce markets.
The majority of herbs are grown in open fields like any other crop, although Herbfresh also has 5 acres (2 hectares) of polytunnels and 3.4 acres (1.4 hectares) of glasshouse. Mark is in charge of almost 100 eastern European seasonal workers, almost all of whom live on site.
Mark has worked in fresh produce for the last 15 years, working with root vegetables, onions and brassicas before his current role with fresh herbs.
At the weekend he’s busy running the family smallholding near Farnham – 49 acres (20 hectares) of pasture and 25 acres (10 hectares) of trees and rough woodland. He also grazes 75 acres (30 hectares) of local grassland. Mark has a small outdoor pig herd and sells the meat locally. He has a butchery on the farm and makes his own sausages, which are sold in local pubs. He also has a flock of 30 ewes and sells the lamb locally.
Mark is keen to talk about the availability of reliable labour. "The whole shortage of harvest labour piece in my opinion is exaggerated. I employ around 75 seasonal workers and haven't really had difficulty recruiting. In fact I have even been offered extra workers that I haven't been able to take. The system works when you have scale, and a long timeframe in which to keep the workers busy. I am sure if you are looking for a small number of staff or for short periods it's more difficult and it becomes unattractive to work with the UK's Seasonal Worker scheme. Other factors that have made it unattractive are the legislation around it, different pay rates, limits as to what workers can do, extra audits around living arrangements and work conditions. Finding full-time workers with certain specialist skills can be very tricky. For example, sprayer drivers, drill operators and workshop staff are almost non existent, to the point that they have to be trained on farm."
Member of the National Farmers Union (NFU) and Country Land and Business Association (CLA) and council member at the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association (RNAA)
Interviewed in farming press, on national and local radio, and on international and regional TV.