Tom Simmons

2022 Silver Sustainable Farmer of the Year

Riviera Produce Ltd,
PE Simmons & Son, Cornwall

INCOPORATING more sustainable techniques into the farm had already started delivering benefits for Cornish growers Riviera Produce. Specialising in winter production of cauliflower, sixth-generation farmer Tom Simmons was conscious of the negative impact harvesting vegetables could have during winter. The business employs more than 250 people, increasing to 500 during the peak planting and harvesting business and Tom is determined it remain profitable and sustainable for future generations.

Core changes saw the farm adopt no plough, reduce tillage and strip tillage methods to grow crops in 2018. They are also growing 1,200 hectares of cover crops to boost organic matter, suppress weeds, trap excess nutrients and sequester carbon, with the target of reducing nitrogen inputs. He says: “With the area of brassicas we are now growing, we had to look into our farming process to see where we could become more efficient and more aware of the environmental impact of high input traditional vegetable production methods. “We decided to adopt the reduced tillage practices, aiming to make the farming side of the business more resilient against the cost pressures of fertiliser, fuel, chemicals and labour.” They have also ceased using postplanting herbicides, using mechanical hoeing to control weeds in the crop. “Since adopting these methods, we have significantly reduced run-off from our fields and it has become less damaging to the soil structure during the harvest process.”

And with the current inflationary environment, becoming more efficient and reducing inputs was also benefitting the bottom line, making the business more resilient. In what Tom reflects as a tricky year, fertiliser costs have soared and the hot, dry weather impacted crops. “It is very challenging at the moment; there have been five or six growers who have given up,” he says, adding that making the changes had allowed them to ‘stand still’ in difficult conditions. The reaction from landlords had also been positive and they have received a lot of interest from other farmers and landowners because they had seen the techniques in practice and understood the benefits.