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Field to Fork: You’ll have tried strawberries, but have you tried red diamond ones?

For the latest in our Field to Fork series, Brian Stormont and Blair Dingwall found out all about growing strawberries at East Seaton Farm, near Arbroath.

Lochy Porter is a man who knows strawberries.

Three generations of the Porter family have grown the soft fruit at East Seaton Farm in Angus.

Having purchased the farm 27 years ago, Lochy has seen a lot of changes during the years and his strawberries are particularly relevant just now as Marks & Spencer has recently partnered with Angus Soft Fruits, in the launch of their “Fresh Market Update” campaign.

Lochy Porter of East Seaton Farm.

East Seaton Farm supplies the firm with its prestigious red diamond strawberries and the campaign shines a spotlight on the lengths farmers go to across the country to deliver exceptional quality.

Lochy is one of five Scottish farmers, from the Scottish Borders to the Highlands, featuring, involved in the advertising campaign.

Perfect setting

East Seaton Farm creates the perfect setting for growing delicious strawberries, thanks to its coastal location at Arbroath.

The warm days and cold nights make the strawberries ripen more slowly, ensuring that each individual strawberry maintains a very sweet taste.

Punnets of red diamond strawberries at East Seaton Farm.

And by using polytunnels, Lochy and his team can extend the soft fruit season and get an even better yield as a result.

He said: “We had a late start and have enjoyed a magnificent summer. The weather has been super and there’s been lots of sun.

“We had decent production in June and July and right through to August now.

“We produce strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries and some spring barley for malting and potatoes. The main activity of the farm is soft fruits.

The strawberries are housed in polytunnels on table tops.

“When we first started we used to have a season from late June into July, but with all of the tunnels we have now and the way we grow, we use a lot of biologicals to improve crop management and can extend it.

“Different insects eat other different problem insects and now we can grown from May right through to October.”

Process is key

Another addition which has also helped improve and extend the growth and quality of the strawberries the farm produces is the use of table tops.

This is very important for Lochy’s strawberries which he supplies supermarket chains with.

Growing tunnels at East Seaton Farm.

“We supply them (Marks & Spencer) with red diamond strawberries. We let them ripen for a lot longer and therefore you get the absolute sweetest flavour and the best quality by extending that process.

“Red diamonds are a certain size. They are a nice juicy berry and I think also on the cliffs on the east coast of Scotland, we have cooler nights and an even temperature during the day.

“This allows the sugars to develop and the fruit ripens quite slowly so it allows for a much sweeter berry.”

One of the workers collecting the red diamond strawberries.

Growing season

Already looking to next year, Lochy has placed his plant order and has already ordered equipment needed for the next two years in advance – this isn’t his first rodeo after all.

“We have the plants over winter and bring in plants for next year from other parts of Europe and we plant them in the spring or early February. Then, the growing period starts again.

“We’re picking the final quarter of our fruit production into August, September, October and then everything goes dormant and it all starts again next spring.

Thousands of strawberries are picked every year.

“I used to come for school holidays and pick strawberries which were grown in straw on the floor in soil in the fields. That was the first job we had every summer when we came home.

“Then it progressed to raised beds, plastic trickle irrigation and now we have them on table tops so it is picked at waist height. That has been a massive change in how we grow the fruit.”

Brexit and seasonal workers

Suppling venues up and down the UK, the firm exports soft fruits as far as Singapore and Japan, and also throughout Europe.

With the challenges Brexit has had on the business, including its core seasonal workers on which it depends, Lochy is concerned the lack of interest from the younger generation may put his business in jeopardy in the future.

A woman inspects the strawberries.

“I think Brexit has its challenges for everyone. We have fortunately just about managed to get through this season with the people who have come from Eastern Europe, but it is a concern going forward,” said Lochy.

“We look at the age demographic of the characters we have over here and they are wonderful people who pick fruit, but they are getting older so we need the younger generation coming through.

“It is something we speak to the government about a lot as it is critical for soft fruit. It is a concern going forward but we are just about managing this season.”

For more in this series…