Asparagus, mushrooms and organic green cauliflowers are the latest crops to be considered for commercial production by Cupar-based East of Scotland Growers (ESG).
The co-operative of 16 producers is searching for ways of extending the season to provide continuous work for their field labour force as well as adding additional strands of income to the core crops of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage plus smaller acreages of onions and kale.
A trial of six acres of organic green cauliflowers, which is estimated to yield around 50,000 heads, is almost ready to be harvested in Perthshire, with the crop destined for national organic box distribution company Abel and Cole.
ESG commercial manager Alan Wallace said: “It’s just a small volume that’s being grown at Coupar Angus but it’s still a reasonable-sized trial of an innovative and different crop.
“We’ve still to find out if it’s viable, but the beauty of this trial is that we have a guaranteed market which reduces the risk and gives us the confidence to try something new.”
As well as trialling new broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage varieties, the co-op has also been looking at commercial trials of asparagus.
Over the last two seasons ESG has grown commercial trials extending to 40 acres to determine if the crop can be grown on a large commercial scale.
Mr Wallace said: “If the trials are successful then we will be in a position to offer Scottish asparagus on a small commercial scale from April 2022, with volumes increasing further for the following year.
“It’s a difficult crop with a long lead in to the first harvest – which isn’t really a sellable harvest.
A feasibility project is also under way into the possibility of trialling both organic and conventional mushroom production.
“There are many factors to consider.
“There’s a shortage of organic mushrooms – but organic compost, which is imported from Europe, is also in short supply.
“But some of our farmers have invested heavily in renewable energy, so finding ways of utilising heat is of interest to us, as is utilising labour 52 weeks of the year.
“The goal is to smooth out production.”
Meanwhile the co-operative’s core broccoli and cauliflower season had been a challenging one, with August’s heavy rainfall damaging many crops and reducing yields.
Mr Wallace said: “Some growers received 1175mm of rainfall in 12 hours. Areas of crop were washed out or waterlogged and dead on their feet. It’s fair to say yields will be down this year.”