Pea farmers’ deal brings boost for Oulton Broad plant

WORKERS at a refrigeration plant at Oulton Broad were delivered a major boost this week with news that East Anglia's beleaguered pea growers were back in business.

WORKERS at a refrigeration plant at Oulton Broad have been delivered a major boost with news that East Anglia's beleaguered pea growers were back in business.

A total of 150 farmers in Norfolk and Suffolk will again be planting peas after signing a contract with Europe's biggest frozen vegetable specialist, the Belgian giant Ardo.

The deal also secures 38 jobs at the Norbert Dentressangle freezing plant at Mobbs way, Oulton Broad, which will wash and pack the projected crop of about 14,800 tonnes.

The news comes just seven months after Birds Eye ended a 64-year partnership of growing vining peas in its traditional heartland in East Anglia and switched production to Yorkshire.

Growers' leader Richard Hirst was delighted by the deal, signed on Tuesday, as it would bring back a valuable source of income lost at a moment's notice in February.

The contract is worth about �20,000 for most farmers or a total of about �3m.

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'I'm just chuffed to bits. It has been really hard, but we've kept the support of the overwhelming number of growers,' said Mr Hirst, chairman of the farmers' co-operative, Anglia Pea Growers.

Mr Hirst, who farms at Ormesby, near Yarmouth, said the group had retained its specialist fleet of seven pea viners, and these would be used to harvest the crop in the two-month season.

Once seed had been secured, he said, growers would be drilling about 8,600 acres of peas from early next year for harvesting from the middle of June - much of it in the Waveney valley.

'Peas are a high value product and an integral part of the farming process as they serve to fix nitrogen in the soil and can be harvested in between other main crops,' he added.

Stephen Waugh, managing director of Ardo UK, said the company was pleased to secure the contract which was 'very welcome news for both British farmers and consumers'.

'East Anglian peas are an excellent product, grown to the highest standards,' he said '. The produce will be grown, prepared, packed and consumed within the UK, adding value at every stage.'

NFU regional director Pamela Forbes said: 'This is excellent news for the 150 growers involved and for the wider rural economy. Pea growing has been a real success story in our region, with growers producing a high quality crop with low food miles and low environmental impact.

'The cancellation of the Birds Eye contract in February came as a real blow, so we're delighted that locally-grown peas will now be back on sale next summer,' she added.

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