Video: A company who do know their onions!

It’s a little known fact – but Bedfordshire quietly operates as the UK’s number one county for producing onions.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 28th June 2013, 7:00 am

Though renowned for its agriculture, the county actually plays a more important role in farming than many believe.

But while the brown and red onions, shallots and other brassicas grown across Chronicle Country help to give Beds a boost in the agricultural stakes, it is a Biggleswade-based business which plays a pivotal role in the supply, distribution and wholesale of the vegetables.

Bedfordshire Growers is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and on Saturday, June 29 will be hosting a family fun day from midday.

From food and craft stalls to music and vintage vehicle displays, the day will celebrate rural living at its best – but the vital link that the firm provides between farmers, distributors and supermarkets cannot be underestimated.

Showing the Chronicle around the Beds Growers premises in Potton Road, MD Alastair Waters said: “We have around 35 grower members, who mostly grow onions – I would say around 80 per cent of our output is onions.

“When Beds Growers first started in 1963 farmers across the country tended to produce smaller amounts of a larger variety of vegetable, but now it’s much more spread out.

“The sandy soil we have in Bedfordshire is ideal for growing onions, while these days most Brussels sprouts tend to be grown in Scotland, while sweetcorn usually comes from the south coast where the weather is warmer.”

Over the decades Beds Growers has expanded in scope and capacity and can now process more than 40 tonnes of onions a day.

Though onions are the mainstay, other vegetables are processed in smaller quantities including potatoes, cabbages and beetroot.

Its customers include 
supermarket giants ASDA and Sainsbury’s.

As the onion season runs for most of the year, the vegetables can mainly be supplied from Chronicle Country farmers, apart from a period of around six weeks in the summer.

Alastair added: “In late June and July that season comes to an end, so for a short period until August we will supply onions which are imported from Spain and other countries in the Southern Hemisphere.”

As the years have gone by and technology has advanced, the firm has employed fewer staff as machinery now takes on much of the work.

Staff are still needed to supervise the running of the machines, ensure quality control and take care of other jobs though.

As well as the vegetable production side, Beds Growers also runs a shop selling local produce including jams, preserves, condiments and pickles, as well as clothing and many agricultural wares and equipment.