Richie Walsh, Seed Programme Coordinator for Lowland Scotland, writes for the Autumn issue of The Organic Grower.

Scotland’s agriculture is very heavily cattle and cereal based. Fields of wheat, oats and barley are a common sight growing on the sandy soils of the east of Scotland, while the wet and green west is primarily beef and dairy country. With the exception of potatoes (almost all seed potatoes for the UK market are grown in Scotland) a very small amount of vegetables are grown here. In 2018 there was just less than 20,000 hectares of land producing vegetables. This is a huge contrast to the almost 500,000 hectares of cereal crops, 250,000 of which was dedicated to barley. Some might think that that makes sense, as one of the most important Scottish exports is whisky made from malted barley. Surprisingly only 35% of the barley makes it to malting, most of it is grown as animal fodder. Whisky and beef are well-known products of Scotland; less well-known are our vegetable cultivars which can not only withstand but thrive in the unique Scottish climate.

At this time there are no commercial vegetable seed growers in Scotland. If someone wants to grow organic vegetables they will usually order their seeds from England, Wales or Ireland. While there are some good options from these locations, like Real Seeds in Wales and Irish Seed Savers, more often than not, organic growers will order from the organic range of some of the larger UK based seed companies.

Most if not all of these companies are based in the south of England, where sunnier summer and autumn weather give a better promise of plentiful seed harvest than the cold, wet and often unpredictable weather of the north of Britain. The problem with growing these vegetables in Scotland lies in the genetics of the seed. If every one of the seeds ancestors were grown in the sunny south of the country, that is what the seed will “expect” when it begins to grow. What a shock many of these vegetables are in for when…

Originally published in the Organic Grower Magazine. To read the article in full please support the Organic Grower by buying a copy here.