Norfolk farmers invest in mint picker with kid gloves

A dedicated group of Norfolk mint growers for Colman's of Norwich has been reaping the benefits of a new specialist harvester.

As the season enters the final fortnight of cutting about 100 acres of fresh mint, grower and syndicate manager David Bond has been quietly pleased by the performance of the new trailed harvester.

It has replaced a machine which was built about 17 years ago by agricultural engineers at Silsoe, and was made by Nicholson Machinery, of Southery, near Downham Market.

The harvester, which has a 2.4m header, is about one-third bigger than the old machine and can harvest more of the crop at every pass. 'We have to harvest as quickly, efficiently and as tenderly as we can,' said Mr Bond, of Blofield, who is one of the four members of the group supplying the Carrow factory since the end of May.

The new machine has included a number of features, including better height adjustment at the front and rear to work more efficiently. While the actual stripping mechanism uses similar 'combs' to harvest the leaves, a new design of air flow handles with crop even more carefully. 'We don't want to bruise the leaves which are actually very tender. The leaves are very delicate and it's certainly some-thing that we need to be as gentle with as we can,' said Mr Bond.

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David Nicholson, who heads the family agricultural engineers, started work on the design around Christmas last year, and the machine was built for this season's harvest. As a one-off and thus unique design, some final in-field refinements were needed and which could only be carried out during the harvesting operation.

'The wet weather has made it tricky at times. We started at the end of May, so the first four or five weeks were pretty good and then the rain started in mid-June, which did hold us up,' he said.

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The key is cutting the mint crop, which is harvested in rotation and usually two or three times in a season, and delivering it for processing. As a premium fresh mint product, it is typically delivered in loads weighing between two and a half and three tonnes, said Mr Bond. 'We have to avoid putting too much in every load because the weight of the harvested leaves would damage the other leaves and compress them. Then we wouldn't get that lovely, crisply sharp, minty taste in a jar of Colman's mint sauce,' said Mr Bond.

His fellow members are Broadland farmer Ed Wharton, of Winsford Hall, Stokesby, Stangroom Brothers, who farm at Whissonsett, in Mid-Norfolk and Crown Point Farms, of Bixley, near Norwich.

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