'I wouldn't want to do anything else' - Dedicated Norfolk farmer celebrates 50 years of pea harvesting
A dedicated Norfolk farmer has completed his 50th pea harvest after one of the most challenging seasons in his long and loyal career.
Terry Lines, 66, from Hemsby, near Great Yarmouth, has spent half a century of summers working with Anglian Pea Growers, a 110-strong network spanning an area between east Norfolk and north Suffolk, producing 15-18,000 tonnes of frozen peas every year.
As this year’s heat-affected harvest came to an early end this week he was applauded at a ceremony to mark an achievement which his colleagues believe may never be matched.
Mr Lines began working in the pea industry in 1968 and, as the rising popularity of frozen peas led to a re-design of harvesters, he remembers the introduction of the first trailed machines, and the evolution of the self-propelled modern pea viners which gather the crop today.
“They used to swathe the field into windrows, load them on trailers, and I would cart the whole vine to a static vining station at Filby,” he said.
“The thing that changed the most was in 1969. The machines then were towed by tractors. They still windrowed the peas, but these machines were pulled along and they went from carting the peas to a static station to vining them in the field.
“The other big change is the ‘one big area’. 50 years ago we just harvested a small area under Fleggmart, which covered Acle, Great Yarmouth and Stalham. Now we are covering an area from Nacton to Bacton.
“We can do about 35-40ha in 12 hours, so that’s about 70ha per 24 hours. Back in the day, it was more like 12-15ha – but we are talking about 50 years ago.”
Mr Lines, who farms for CP Barwood in Fleggburgh for the rest of the year, has only missed one pea harvest since 1968, when Birds Eye shocked East Anglian growers in 2010 by not renewing contracts for the supply of peas to its Lowestoft processing plant following the loss of major export order.
Now, the peas are frozen within two-and-a-half hours in Oulton Broad as part of a contract with Belgian frozen vegetable specialist Ardo.
Mr Lines, who was presented with holiday vouchers to mark his 50 years, said despite the rigours of working shifts during the two-month pea season, he never imagined a life outside farming – and has no plans to retire.
“I think I have stayed in it too long now to do anything else,” he said. “But I wouldn’t want to. I still enjoy it. I always look forward to doing the peas every year.
“I just enjoy the outside life and I enjoy being with everyone doing the work. It gets you away from the farm for a few weeks, working with other people from different areas.”
ONE OF A KIND
Andy Beach, the group’s general manager, said: “I am convinced that we won’t see another Terry – someone who has done this many years of service involved in the same enterprise. You couldn’t get on a tractor at 16 now, so this would be almost impossible to achieve if you started out now.”
Anglian Pea Growers chairman Richard Hirst said: “We don’t always show our appreciation for what these guys do for us.
“It is a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week operation, that normally lasts eight or nine weeks. It is a long and difficult season, particularly when they are on nights.
“I don’t know who else will have done as many harvests as Terry. He has had a role which has taken him from being a boy driving a trailer to being a shift manager, to going back to driving a pea viner again.
“There are not many industries where you get people staying for that length of time. It is a huge achievement.”
TOUGH YEAR FOR PEA GROWERS
The hot, dry summer, following on from an exceptionally cold and wet spring, has made it a “tough year” for Anglian Pea Growers, said chairman Richard Hirst.
“I think it is one of the most difficult seasons we have had,” he said. “It was shorter season, after a late start. I think we started drilling a month later than we had planned, and the earlier crops did not grow away particularly well. This field [one of the last to be harvested on August 8] was drilled on June 8, and the only decent rain it had was last weekend.
“So we will not have produced our contract, like every other group in the UK and in Europe this year. In terms of the harvest it has been quick, but there is a lot of pressure on the guys to keep on top of the crop, which doesn’t like heat above 25C. We will finish about 10 days earlier than usual.”