The last remaining commercial outdoor tomato grower in the British Isles is set to quit.
Jersey-based Peter Le Maistre last year grew outdoor tomatoes for M&S. But production has become so costly he is poised to focus on alternative crops.
Among the major problems faced by Le Maistre is the threat of disease.
Volumes of outdoor tomatoes grown are now so insignificant that pesticide companies no longer market chemicals to protect them.
His brother Philip Le Maistre, who is director of vegetable supplier Jersey Quality Produce, said:
“It’s such a small crop that none of the new blight sprays are passed for outdoor use, and unless a product specifies that it is for use on outdoor tomatoes, we’re not allowed to use it.
“Blight is a real problem, which means outdoor tomatoes are expensive to grow if you haven’t got protection.”
Gerry Hayman, technical adviser to the British Tomato Growers’ Association, said protocols for chemicals in Europe were now so tight that it could cost pesticide suppliers £100,000 to get just one approval for use. This meant they were unlikely to bother for crops grown in small quantities.
He said blight was not a problem for indoor-grown tomatoes because they were kept away from wet conditions, which can lead to the disease.
Although there were taste and texture benefits to be had by growing tomatoes outdoors, the short season and insecurity of supply associated with the outdoors meant they were of little interest to retailers, he said.
He added: “You also get big fluctuations in terms of fruit size and skin finish.”
Le Maistre said his brother was likely to focus his efforts on growing organic purple sprouting broccoli for M&S. Planting is due to begin later this year, with near year-round supply the target.
Richard Clarke