Families and other members of the public who are looking for a fruit-growing enterprise to visit during this year’s Open Farm Sunday on 7 June should have no difficulty finding one in the traditional areas of Kent, Herefordshire or Somerset
But what about Aberdeenshire…?
One of the UK’s most successful fruit producers is to be found at Castleton, close to the town of Fordoun, on the road between Dundee and Aberdeen. Farmed by the Mitchell family since 1992, Castleton Farm once supported a dairy herd, but its 710 acres are now dedicated to arable and fruit – strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and cherries, to be specific.
The cool Scottish summers in this northerly location provide the ideal conditions for berry production, with a mid-May to early November growing/picking season. At its peak, up to 350 workers from Eastern Europe are employed, together with seasonal staff who are engaged all year round.
In 2009 Castleton Farm was awarded the accolade of "Soft Fruit Grower of the Year" and in 2010 a purpose-built packhouse and refrigeration unit were constructed to further increase its fruit capacity.
The bulk of the Mitchells’ £5 million-plus annual production goes to Marks & Spencer and Tesco, with local sales – including the modern Castleton Farm shop outlet – accounting for 3 per cent of the total.
All produce bound for the supermarket sector is marketed and sold by Berrygardens, a growers’ co-operative consisting of 63 producers – 10 of which are in Scotland and account for 23 per cent of the group’s total volume. Combined annual turnover is now well in excess of £200m.
Last year, Castleton Farm welcomed visitors from across the region during the Open Farm Sunday initiative. “It went really well,” Ross Mitchell recalls. “We had been encouraged to take part by Marks & Spencer, who are our biggest customers.
“The visitors experienced exactly what goes into growing their soft fruit. I think most of them had never realised just how much work was involved.”
In addition to Open Farm Sunday, Castleton last year acted as a host farm for the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists conference, one of the main sponsors of which was Massey Ferguson.
“Apart from running a MF 7620 ourselves as the farm’s main workhorse tractor, Massey Ferguson is lending us another tractor for the purposes of this year’s Open Farm Sunday", says Ross.
“I think it’s very important that the public – our customers – see that farmers, suppliers and manufacturers work together as one joined-up industry. Open Farm Sunday represents a good opportunity for us to help get that message across.”
Lindsay Haddon, Advertising & Sales Manager at Massey Ferguson, couldn’t agree more. “We’re delighted to be supporting such a great initiative as Open Farm Sunday,” she says.
“Like Ross and his family, we are very keen to encourage the public – our ultimate customers – to find out how their food is produced. As a responsible manufacturer, we will back our farmers in any way we can to get these important messages across.”
Details of farms throughout the UK set to welcome visitors to this year’s Open Farm Sunday event on 7th June can be found at www.farmsunday.org.uk