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 leafy vegetables across 741 acres (300 hectares) in Surrey, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. They grow coriander, rosemary, mint, dill, chervil, chives, flat and curly leaf parsley, kale, cavolo nero and spinach on a field scale and basil, chives, tarragon, thyme, lemon thyme, oregano and sage on a smaller specialised unit. Everything ends up on supermarket shelves or in London’s fresh produce markets.
The vast majority of herbs are grown in open fields like any other crop, though Herbfresh also has 25 acres of polytunnels and a one acre glasshouse. Mark is in charge of almost 170 eastern European seasonal workers, almost all of whom live on site.
Mark has worked in fresh produce for the last 10 years, working with root vegetable, 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. 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 fattens cattle and has a flock of 30 ewes.
The hot summer of 2018 was tough on herb crops. With certain varieties, such as curly leaf parsley and chervil, only 10% of seeds sown germinated. Coriander fared a little better but still only hit a 80% germination rate, while spinach was around 70%. Tighter supply meant Mark couldn’t keep up with customer demand. In a normal year, a 2kg box of coriander might sell for £3.80. The market price in September 2018 was £11 a box. The higher prices have given a welcome boost to business, which ordinarily operates on very tight profit margins, but without enough herbs to sell, Mark can’t make the most of it. Prices are up but yields are down – a win and lose situation.
Member of the National Farmers Union (NFU) and Country Land and Business Association (CLA) and council member at the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association (RNAA)
Previous media experience
Interviewed by Farmers Weekly about water conservation and potatoes, interviewed on Radio Norfolk and Farming Today on BBC Radio 4. Also interviewed on Look East and Anglia today.