LUTTON farmer David Hoyles is one of three farmers to have rescued that most quintessential of English condiments, English mustard.
It was David who called an emergency meeting five or so years ago, after growers suffered one of the worst harvests on record, that led to the establishment of the English Mustard Growers’ Co-operative, helping Colman’s keep its famous English mustard.
David, who grows 180 acres, offered to undertake price negotiations for the whole group and to tender for an agronomist to deal with all the growers, most of whom farm in the Peterborough area.
Following years of lack of investment in plant breeding, dwindling harvests and poor weather that had driven yields down, the co-operative not only had to convince growers that mustard seed was a crop worth growing, but called in an agronomist to investigate the declining yields.
He discovered that as the smallest white mustard seed was gradually phased out by growers trying to produce larger, uniform-sized seeds, the plants were not pollinating each other properly.
This year’s heavy rains have taken their toll and while the Fen soil is normally forgiving David says yields of mustard are probably going to be down 25 per cent – and his wheat is down a staggering 50 per cent.
In normal circumstances he says mustard is fairly easy to grow, but adds that getting the crops to the required specification of the customer “takes a bit more management”.
David says: “We work with Colman’s and we have set up this growers’ association to work closely with them and make sure that we understand what their needs are and they understand the growing concerns as well and together hopefully optimise prosperity for both partners.”
The chairman of the co-operative, Michael Sly, says in a normal year growers harvest a total of 1,400-1,500 tonnes of mustard seed to sell to Colman’s, earning around £590 per tonne.
He said most growers’ families had been farming mustard for between 100 and 140 years, and this was another reason farmers were determined to find a way to carry on.