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Growers plan revival of tomato industry in Clyde Valley

IT took the planting out of 10,000 tender young seedlings but in just one day in an industrial greenhouse near Carluke, the once mighty Clyde Valley tomato industry was reborn.

SEEDS OF SUCCESS:  Co-founders David Craig, above left, and Scott Robertson help plant some of the 10,000 tomato plants in the glasshouses near Carluke, helped by Jim and Liz Craig, who had run the business. Pictures: Mark Mainz
SEEDS OF SUCCESS: Co-founders David Craig, above left, and Scott Robertson help plant some of the 10,000 tomato plants in the glasshouses near Carluke, helped by Jim and Liz Craig, who had run the business. Pictures: Mark Mainz

For newly-established tomato growers, David Craig and Scott Robertson, the job proved to be a painstaking but emotional experience.

The plant-out also marked a fightback against cheaper foreign imports from the Netherlands and also from the Isle of Wight, where most British-branded tomatoes are currently sourced by supermarkets and independents alike.

By April, the first fruits, under their new branding of Clyde Valley Tomatoes, are expected to crop in 14 different varieties

They will be hand-picked and hand-packed for sale in Dobbies Garden Centres nationwide, Earthy Foods in Edinburgh, WholeFoods Market in Giffnock, 14 farmshops and the farmers' markets in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

A number of top Scottish chefs, including Tom Kitchin and Neil Forbes, have also expressed interest in using some varieties.

During the 1950s and 1960s, there were hundreds of tomato growers and acres of industrial-sized greenhouses in the Clyde Valley.

They produced enough tomatoes to feed the entire country, with enough left over for export but, gradually, cheaper imports from countries across the European Union put all but three Scottish growers out of business.

A former market manager with WholeFoods Market in Giffnock, Mr Craig has signed a three-year lease on the 32-acre site from owners Jim and Liz Craig who ran the family tomato business, J&M Craig, for 40 years before retiring.

Within three months, Mr Craig, 32, managed to secure a £150,000 rescue package for the firm, jointly funded by the Clydesdale Bank, South Lanarkshire Council and specialist growers Scotherbs. He has the option to buy the busines in 2015, and by that time, volume is expected to triple along with trade. In its heyday during the 1970s and 1980s, J&M Craig produced 250 tonnes a year.

Jim Craig will stay on board to mentor the new owners as they set out on their venture. It is hoped the cropping season will yield up to 100 tonnes, or 2.5 million tomatoes.

On an initial outlay of £15,000 for the plants – grown in Humberside from seed chosen by Mr Craig – the turnover in the first year is estimated at £300,000.

French and Dutch varieties, including Campari red cocktails, Sungreen tiger stripe, Coeur de Boeuf beef toms, Ardilles medium plum, Lajaune yellow cherry, Claree red cherry, Sunchicola black cherry, will be joined by classic red varieties Encore and Calvano.

The sole Scottish variety is the classic red Ailsa Craig, which Mr Craig is trying to revive by having the weaker plant grafted on to stronger root stock.

Mr Craig, from Strathaven, said he will only deal with supermarkets if they pay a reasonable price. To date, the typical response he has had is they will only pay the cheapest price to match what they pay for imported Dutch tomatoes.

He said: "Anyone who says that just doesn't get it. Imported tomatoes are days old by the time they get here. You can't buy fresher, tastier or healthier than locally grown. I hope the supermarkets will come on board."

Mr Craig and Mr Robertson, a former civil servant and now operations manager of the business, are now living on site in a vintage Debonair Super mobile home, as the tomatoes need 24/7 care.

Mr Craig, said: "The hard work starts now but we can't wait to watch our plants grow and to pick the first tomatoes. It feels good to be part of a future legacy for Scotland."

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