Clem Tompsett, started growing carrots in the early 60s. Today, Tompsett Growers Limited are major root crop producers, growing carrots and other roots across 3500 acres of East Anglia with late-strawed crops in Scotland.
Mr Tompsett passed away on 22 March 2019. But the family has carried on the company – which is now run by his wife Mary, daughters Jackie and Sally and farming director, Ian Hall. It remains very much a family business – grandson Sam is now working in the company – with the local community at its heart.
“We are harvesting carrots 12 months a year,” says Jackie. “We have grown tremendously over the years but we are still Clem’s family values” from managing the land, protecting the soils, growing and harvesting the crops to valuing our employees.”
The home farm, which comprises some 400ha (1000 acres), grows wheat and sugar beet – with land rented out for potatoes, leeks, maize, carrots and onions. Unusually for a fen farm, it has 17ha (42 acres) of woodland and 4ha (10 acres) of willows.
Two reservoirs store water for summer irrigation. Solar panels general electricity. Cereal crops are followed by direct drilling of overwintered green cover crops to enhance the soil structure, which has encouraged an influx of visitors, including lapwings.
The farm also includes an equestrian eventing course covering 32ha (80 acres). Attracting some of the top-ranked domestic and international riders, it is also home to the Soham & District Branch of the Pony Club.
An annual equestrian charity event has enabled the family to raise more than £200,000 to various charities – with donations from people among the local community as well as a range of generous sponsors.
“We have always been keen on horses – but the eventing course is not really for us, it is for the local community,’ says Jackie. “We’re a successful business and it’s about giving something back in return for all the support they’ve given us over the years.”
After growing the first field of carrots in 1960, the business soon expanded. A building was erected for washing carrots in the 1960s and 1970s – with clean, bagged carrots supplied to the market trade.
Washed carrots were supplied to supermarkets from the early 1980s, with land rented locally in neighbouring Suffolk. Further expansion followed, with the business growing and packing carrots and parsnips as Isleham Carrot Growers.
Jackie joined her father in the business in 1990. That decade, it started growing crops on rented land in Norfolk and Lincolnshire before merging with the Burgess family to create Isleham Fresh Produce in 2000.
Returning to their roots in 2002, the Tompsett family then moved into onions and shallots, converting a building into an onion store. Four years later, a small factory was built to deal with casualty crops – those which don’t make supermarket grade – in 2006.
Longest serving staff member Jock Austin has been with the business since 1966. In June 2021, the company name was changed to Tompsett Growers Limited, to show it remains very much a family firm.
Carrots are grown on land owned by more than 55 estates – including some of the region’s top farms. There is a team for growing and a team for harvesting – moving from estate to estate throughout the season to ensure top quality crop production.
“I firmly believe that you are only as good as the people you employ and the estates that you grow on,” says Jackie. “That means you have to have good relationships with people – and you have to look after them, which we have always done.
“When times are tough, as they are now, you have to take the long view. You can’t sit here thinking ‘those carrots aren’t making any money’ – you have to adopt a positive outlook and believe that things will eventually turn around.”
Farming director Ian Hall joined the business in 2001. His goal is to keep the business profitable and sustainable – growing and supplying quality produce while creating local jobs for local people.
“We are in it for the long term,” he says. “Staff are extremely important to our business. A lot of employees have been here a long time – you could say they are part of the family. They look after us and we like to think we look after them.
“We want people to enjoy coming to work. We want them to be happy – to have pride in the job and be proud of what they do too.”
In terms of the business itself, another key goal is to minimise waste in all its forms – and to maximise the value of all assets. All key jobs are kept in-house where possible, from the cultivations to harvesting and packing the crop.
“Supermarkets see carrots as a core product,” says Ian. “By us doing everything ourselves, rather than relying on contractors, it means we are in control of the operation and grow to the best standards.
“Margins are tight because the big retailers monitor prices on a daily basis – and carrots are a key item in their ‘shopping basket of food’ that they price match against each other to remain competitive.”
This means the job has to stack up – with every carrot earning its keep, whether it is destined for the supermarket vegetable aisle, further processing by a food producer or sold in nets as pony feed.
“Part of our success is that we work in partnership with the people we rent land from,” says Ian. “We have a long-term vision for the future of the business – and that means maintaining a good relationship with the landlords we rent from.
A trusting relationship with our workforce is vital too. As well as renting land in a sustainable manner, it means we are able to care of the crops. We try to do things properly – attention to detail is very important to us.
“Over the years, that has meant reinvesting in the business rather than drawing it out. It means we can get more out of the crop – our core family values enable us to maintain our very high standards while remaining competitive.”
For more profiles, read about Camgrain and their positive results amid this year’s challenging harvest.