Dedicated to growing quality tomatoes under glass since 1977

40th Anniversary!

 

Eric Wall Ltd was established 40 years ago by Eric Wall and his partner Hugh Stevenson.

 

Eric is still very active in the business and what he has forgotten about tomatoes isn't worth remembering.

 

Here Eric gives his thoughts on how the business has evolved...

 

Eric Wall Ltd, a partnership between Eric Wall and Hugh Stevenson, was set up in September 1977 to acquire part of Pollards Nursery which was built during the 1960’s. The Nursery comprised 6 twin span houses, 20 wide-spans and 3 multi-span houses, each approximately 2200sqm in area. EWL bought four wide-spans and one multi-span house.

During the 1960’s the benefit of CO2 enrichment and optimum temperatures for early tomato production had been established and exploited commercially to the extent that the premium for early tomatoes were greatly diminished. The huge increase in oil prices in 1973 had a big impact on the profitability of tomato growing. How early crops could be grown had been pushed pretty well to the limit. The only way ahead was to grow crops for longer; but this had difficulties. Firstly, unless soil sterilisation was done exceptionally well plant performance fell away and, secondly, existing training systems couldn’t cope with longer stem growth.

The attraction at Pollards was that the eaves of the wide-span hoses at 3.4m were much higher than any other houses built up to that time. This enabled the installation of a high-wire training system.  In turn this required a modification of the heating pipe layout. The existing layout had the conventional layout of a close loop of small bore pipes in the centre of each bed with a row of plants on each side. This was changed to the heating pipes being moved to the outside of the beds forming a rail track along each path on which trolleys could run. All the houses acquired later were changed in this way and the system has become virtually universal in long-season tomato production.

 

 

The aim from the start was to give the staff “ownership “ of part of the crop, operating a flexitime system and awarding bonuses based on yield reflecting the quality of their work. There have been modifications but, broadly speaking, the system still continues.

Biological control of pests was in its infancy in the late seventies with the notion of balanced populations of pests and their predators. Assessing whether the populations were in balance on a commercial scale was unrealistic; it soon became apparent that zero tolerance was the only effective system. This requires the early identification and reporting of any problem by the staff so that pest problems can be nipped in the bud . The use of chemical pesticides has been virtually eliminated. As a consequence, in later years the use of bumble bees for pollination has been a great success.

 

Based on its founding principles the Company has grown over the years. In 1979 the Company acquired 6 more of the wide-span houses on the site and in 1984 replaced the original multi-span house and the following year built a 13,400sqm block, both of reclaimed glass with the stanchions extended to facilitate a high wire training system.

 At that time natural gas became available. This transformed the heating system and made CO2 enrichment in summer to be feasible. Prior to that enrichment had been by burning high grade kerosene in burners in the house but as a hot gas little or no enrichment occurred with open vents. Natural gas boilers are run during the day with cooled flue gases injected in the houses for CO2 enrichment and the heat generated stored in insulated water tanks for use at night.

 

 

In 1987 the storm on October 15th caused enormous damage on the whole site. The 6 twin-spans collapsed and the loss of glass on most of the houses was so extensive that complete re-glazing was more efficient than piecemeal repairs. At that time three more wide-spans were bought. In 1992 the Company acquired the rest of the Pollards site. In 1997 the remaining original multi-spans were replaced by a modern Venlo block and 2 years later a block of 4 wide-spans, 2 of which had been left derelict since 1987, were replaced with another Venlo block.

Three further Venlo blocks have been built in 2004, 2005 and 2011 totalling 5.5ha.These houses are equipped with a trough system where excess feed solution is collected ad recycled  thereby saving on water and fertilisers.

Thus, seizing investment opportunities as they arose, the Company has grown from an initial 1.1 ha to 11.5ha of glasshouses.