The carrot crop is Britain’s major root vegetable, producing over 700,000 tonnes of carrots each year from 9,000 hectares.
Each year 22 billion carrot seeds are sown in Britain, producing around 100 carrots per year for every member of the population.
The sales value of British carrots is around £290 million.
Freshly harvested carrots are washed, packed and distributed to nearly every shop in the whole of Britain almost every day of the year.
Carrots are harvested in Britain almost 12 months of the year using the natural climates in different parts of the country and using different techniques.
Early season carrots are sown in the winter and very early spring and protected with plastic or fleece covers. They are harvested from June through to August.
Green top carrots are sown in the open ground in spring and are harvested from August until the first frosts start to appear.
Strawed carrots are sown in April to early June, and harvested from December through to late May. Straw is applied by machine in October until December to protect them from the winter weather and keep them dark as they attempt to grow in the spring.
Traditionally carrots have been grown in the East of the country on the Norfolk Sands and the Fens region and up on the Lancaster peats. Over the years this has altered with Nottinghamshire and Scotland becoming important production areas.
Each region has different qualities and climates and by using carrot-growing land all over the country all-year-round British production is achieved.
Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire.
All areas can produce carrots throughout the season.
All carrots tend to be grown on free draining sands.
A de-stoned or de-cloded tilth is required with a loose depth of soil which is usually 50-75 mm deeper than the required length of the carrot. This in practice means a depth of 250-300mm is required.
Drilling with a suitable precision drill such as a Stanhay or Mini Air is essential to ensure maximum uniformity of the crop.
The drill is also set up to ensure differential between the outside rows of the bed and the middle rows of the bed with more seed placed on the outside rows in a 60/40 split. This may vary from site to site depending on the growers’ experience and the intended market.
The use of cover crops is wide spread, with either barley or mustards used to prevent sand blow. These are usually drilled with the carrot seed depending on the potential risk of blowing.
Once drilled, conditions for rapid germination are required, this will often mean that there will be a requirement for irrigation or even better a shower of rain.
Carrots are a crop where irrigation is essential for maximum yield and quality. When you consider the soil type that carrots are grown in and the sheer weight of yield that is grown per hectare it is not difficult to see they have such high water requirements.
Application is usually overhead via hose reels, pivots and sprinkler lines. With the increased cost of water and energy, monitoring systems are essential.
There are two basic harvesting systems in use, which have their different merits based on the crop and the time of year.
Top lifters are used in the early part of the season when the foliage is strong and the carrots are very prone to breakages. They simply undercut and lift out the carrots by the foliage, which is then cut as it reaches the loading belt. During the summer this operation usually takes place at night avoiding the heat of the day and the carrots are lifted just prior to washing.
Share Harvesters are used once the foliage is not strong enough to hold the carrot and as soon as the roots are strong enough to take the agitation of the web.