Simon Dobson can trace his family’s farm back to 1760 when his ancestors rented 12 acres of land to keep a few crops and animals. Now John Dobson and Son Ltd covers 3,500 acres and employs 120 people in peak season.
It’s in the heart of “The Rhubarb Triangle” of West Yorkshire and started supplying Asda with Rhubarb more than 40 years ago.
The farm still supplies Asda with rhubarb but has expanded into growing brassicas and grains. Today Simon and his team, trading as Green Field Produce, supply broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and sprouts to 35 of our stores via our Normanton deport.
All of the produce grown on the farm is Red Tractor-certified confirming it's British, fully traceable and meets Red Tractor standards.
“The Red Tractor badge is a standard of excellence,” says Simon. “It’s about producing the best possible product in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner.”
September to November is the peak time of year for summer veg and this week on the farm Simon and his team have been busy harvesting broccoli and cauliflower. By the end of the month they will be picking the first of this season’s sprouts.
“We start growing sprouts as small plants in greenhouses in September ” said Simon. “They take a full year to plan and grow. Then we harvest them from end of September to end of March the following year”
Farming methods have changed radically since Simon’s grandfather John used a horse and cart to plough the fields. Now tractors are computerised and can even steer themselves to an accuracy of 2.5cm with the aid of GPS technology.
“People don’t realise how much technology there is in farming these days,” said Simon. “Tractors are like mobile offices – they’re fully connected, talking back to the office about how much diesel they’re using, how efficiently they’re being driven.”
The farm took part in Open Farm Sunday for the third year this year and hosted more than 4,000 visitors.
“It’s amazing the questions people ask. Children don’t grow up or play on farms any more so there’s not the awareness of where food comes from. People are surprised at the volumes involved, the amount of produce on their local farm is quite an eye-opener for them. We grow 16 million vegetables plants per year and these are all picked by hand”.
It’s by growing vegetables in large quantities and using the latest technology that Simon can keep costs down for customers without compromising on quality and still meet Red Tractor standards regarding the environment.
“We have to be more efficient in order to produce crops to a good price and technology is one of the big drivers in efficiency,” said Simon.
The farming techniques might have changed over time but the job satisfaction is all about growing the best crops at the right time, when people need them – like sprouts for Christmas.
“It’s a long process that takes a lot of planning and a lot of effort,” said Simon. “What gives me the most satisfaction is walking a crop of sprouts that’s weed and pest free, and even in size, and to come back to the field again and it’s bare with everything sold – that’s the reward for all the hard work.”