Tea Plantation at Fordhead Farm

Fordhead Farm in Kippen is an arable farm with the principal income coming from the production and sale of timothy hay to the animal feed market. Additional income streams from the creation and management of a farmshop and coffee shop, various woodland grant schemes, stewardship schemes, property lets and renewables have all helped to bolster income over the years to maintain profitability during fluctuations within the agricultural commodity markets.

Approximately six years ago the business was hit hard. This happened when a large AD waste company spread fertiliser contaminated by waste plastic fragments over the hay field, and therefore the crop could not be sold for animal consumption. At this stage the intention had been for son Matthew, 23 years old, to join the farm as a full time employee. However, since this was not possible anymore Matthew had to seek alternative employment. As a result of this situation, he began to explore opportunities for further farm diversification.

Matthew had to consider the limited available land at Fordhead and the heavy clay soils prevalent on the Carse of Stirling which could only provide a limited range of crops. This, together with a previous investment in a biomass boiler, which provides heat to the farm house and the let properties, with additional capacity for heat available, led Matthew to consider ways to further utilise this facility. With quite a keen interest in horticulture, it occurred to Matthew that he could explore growing some niche, non-native products in polytunnels. After some extensive research Matthew identified tea as his preferred option. Currently the tea plants are in the early stages of growth.

 
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Applicant Name

Fordhead Farm

Project Aims

  • Using renewable energy to grow tea in central Scotland.
  • Improve the sustainability of an arable farm business in the Forth Valley area during a particularly challenging period due to uncertainty and difficult trading conditions.
  • The diversified income stream will help to future-proof the business in the face of falling subsidy support and fluctuating commodity market conditions.
  • Help to secure the transition of Matthew into the business.
  • Grow a tourism offering for the newly emerging Scottish Tea market;
  • Providing tea tours to add another unique, local and popular addition to the Forth valley area.

Project Detail

The original plan was to install 8 polytunnels to house 1000 tea plants covering 1 acre of land. However, the number of polytunnels has now been reduced to 3 in the initial stages, and have been in use since last year (2017). An additional 3 tunnels are waiting to be built when needed. The plants have been planted into pots, but the project is still in one of its primary stages. The plants were not expected to be capable of producing anything in year one (2017). However, surprisingly they were able to harvest some in year one and actually supplied a 'chai' blend to the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh for Christmas. From year two (2018) the first 80 kg of harvestable tea leaves will be cut and sold on a wholesale basis.

The tea plantation will be able to produce local high quality tea to sell to the Wee Tea Company as well as to a limited number of local outlets and hopefully create a bespoke tea blend at the Woodhouse Coffee Shop and Farm Shop; another of the family’s business. The plan is also to arrange tours at the tea plantation. A dream that will be reality this summer as tea tours will be offered as a new, unique and exotic tourism experience to the Forth Valley area.

Funding

Total Cost: £26,889

LEADER Funding Approved: £11,789.92

Lessons Learned

  •  “The main lesson that has been taken from the unfortunate event with the plastic waste contamination has been that further diversification is required in order to spread the risk and rely less on a single main income stream from the farm business.”
  • “Looking at the land we’ve got, the access and the location we’ve got and then find a suitable diversification project.”
  • “Looking at your own idea, speaking to people, looking at what grants are being offered will help you of the ground with your project.”
  • “I have learnt a lot about the growing process of tea and have taken inspiration from soft fruit growers since tea is such an unusual thing to grow in Scotland.”