Green energy scheme floral boost for Norfolk tulip grower

One of the first 'carbon neutral' wood chip boilers has transformed prospects for a long-established west Norfolk specialist flower grower.

It has cut the carbon footprint of the family business, which supplies millions of blooms to some of the country's leading supermarkets from Terrington St Clement, near King's Lynn.

JA Collison & Sons, of Tuxhill Farm in Hay Green, has invested �450,000 in an environmentally friendly wood chip boiler – one of the first to be installed in the flower industry in this country.

As a result, it has also won a new contract to supply winter tulips to Marks & Spencer stores throughout Britain.

The company grows a total of about seven million tulips, four million scented stocks, 500,000 bunches of asters and 1.5 million white lilies annually from its 60-hectare site for retailers including M&S, Asda, Waitrose and Sainsbury's.

Diane Collision runs the company's administration while her husband, Philip, concentrates on growing and his brother, Ian, looks after packing and marketing

'As a business we take our environmental responsibilities very seriously,' said Mrs Collison.

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'Investing in the wood chip boiler means we can grow more stems per year because we now have an affordable heat source to help the flowers grow in both early and late season. This carbon friendly biomass boiler is one of the first of its kind in the flower industry in this country,' she added.

'Prior to this investment we didn't pack the tulips on the farm either, so we have added value to the contract as we can now finish the orders on-site. Fuel is our third biggest expense, but the wood chip boiler means we can manage that cost, and know the cost of our heating at least a year in advance.

'We have a very good relationship with Marks & Spencer and last year we won an award as part of its Plan A strategy. This funding has definitely strengthened our links with Marks & Spencer.'

They employ about 30 staff during the winter and a further 30 in the summer. Other good green practice includes harvesting rainwater, recycling card and plastic, and using a waste oil heater in the winter in the packing house.

Mrs Collison, added: 'Our business is growing despite the economic recession because people are buying flowers when they do their weekly shopping at the supermarket as a little treat. A bunch of tulips or lilies is now an everyday personal purchase rather than a luxury gift.

'We have been with Clydesdale Bank for 10 years and their support has been fantastic. We speak on a weekly basis and they have been very supportive of our plans every step of the way.

'We couldn't have gone ahead with the wood chip boiler project and invested in the business without Clydesdale Bank.'

David Hughes, who is an agribusiness partner at Clydesdale Bank, said JA Collison & Sons was flourishing thanks to the efficient way in which the business was run.

He said: 'Clydesdale Bank remains committed to supporting viable trading businesses and our long-standing relationship with JA Collison & Sons is testament to that.

'Half of all the flowers which are grown and packed on-site at Tuxhill Farm are supplied to Marks & Spencer, and buying this new machine underlines the Collison's commitment to becoming as sustainable as possible.

'We were delighted to fund this new machine and being able to secure contracts with such highly-respected household names underlines the success of the company.'