Over 45 farm and rural professionals from across Cornwall attended the third annual farm walk organised by leading local accountants PKF Francis Clark and very kindly hosted by David, Sue and Tom Simmons of Riviera Produce, Connor Downs, just outside Hayle. The walk provided a fantastic opportunity to see the truly impressive set up – including the newly extended packing house and learn more about the origins of this sixth generation family farming business. The evening was superb and enjoyed by all who attended.
Brian Harvey, head of Agriculture at PKF Francis Clark, opened the evening, welcoming guests and introducing the Simmons family, longstanding clients and Commercial Farmer and overall Cornwall Farmer of the Year 2018 stating “we have been really lucky that for the last three years clients of the firm have won the prestigious Farmer of the Year accolade and it has now become something of a tradition for them to then host a farm walk for us”.
David Simmons then gave an insight into the background to the family farm, highlighting how, over the past 150 years the farm has grown from 90 acres of mixed farming. The increase in the pig enterprise in the early 1980’s, when David joined the farm from college, led to a very thorough review of the farm, assessing what they were really good at producing – and cauliflowers and brassicas were the answer.
A letter and subsequent phone call to a national supermarket chain and the resultant contract prompted a massive scaling up of the business and whilst initially reliant on over 40 other growers, slowly over time David has seen Riviera Produce take control of more of the land, culminating in the business we see today – farming over 5,500 acres themselves, another 1,000 acres with six other growers.
Riviera Produce now sells to five major supermarkets nationally, producing over 70 million brassica plants in 700 fields, employing some 400 people and becoming one of the top five brassica growers in the country. At the heart of the business is the ethos of being “Cornish and proud” and whilst there have been opportunities to expand into other areas of the UK and indeed Spain, David is quick to point out how important it is not to “take your eye off the ball” of the core business.
David acknowledged the important role his family play in the success of the business, and his son Tom coming back to the farm to work in 2013 was “what every farmer dreams of, six generations of the same family working the land and it is something to be very proud of”.
During a tour of the pack house, David spoke of the problems and opportunities that Brexit may bring. 90% of his workforce are Eastern European and there is no doubt that Brexit and the resultant weakening of the pound and the uncertainty surrounding what will happen has made recruitment and retention of that vital workforce difficult. Conversely, if it did result in a no deal situation, delays in importing competitors’ goods from Spain “wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world!”
As progressive and innovative farmers, the Simmons’ are always looking for new ways in which the business can be taken forward and costs be controlled. Recent developments include solar panels to make 55% of the pack house self-sufficient, constant product development including squashes and new varieties of brassica and taking part in projects looking at the use of robotics.
David commented “I am very proud of my Cornish roots and what Cornwall offers, fantastic produce, delivered fresh, daily to all parts of the UK.”
Brian Harvey said “David is a fantastic example of a farmer who has sought out and maximised opportunities and who is always looking to develop the business whilst keeping a keen eye on costs. Working to the strident demands of the supermarkets is no easy feat and it is a testament to his, Tom’s and their team’s hard work, passion and vision that Riviera Produce is such a success story”.