Tomatoes harvested in Clyde Valley may revive industry
Tomatoes have been harvested in giant greenhouses near Lanark as part of an attempt to revitalise a once-mighty agricultural sector.
Until about 40 years ago the Clyde Valley supplied all of the tomatoes for Scotland and the north of England before the industry collapsed.
Researchers at Glasgow University say tomatoes offer clear health benefits.
The new company, Clyde Valley Tomatoes, aims to capitalise on the freshness of its product sold throughout Scotland.
In February partners David Craig and Scott Robertson planted 10,000 seedlings, with the first harvest - later than anticipated because of the poor spring weather - coming this month.Ailsa Craig
There are 14 separate varieties ranging in size from plum and cherry tomatoes to the giant Coeur de Boeuf, beloved of chefs.
And a Scottish heritage variety, Ailsa Craig, will make its return to the market for the first time in four decades.
Mr Robertson said it was important to try to open a niche in the market to enable the company to compete with mass-produced foreign imports.
"I think the time is right for people to be eating more local food, to be eating good quality local food - and you can't do better than a tomato for that," he said.
"Everyone's talking about air miles and carbon footprints for things. To us, the green credentials are a must."
In the decades after the Second World War there were hundreds of growers in the Clyde Valley, with acres of industrial-sized greenhouses.
Their crop supplied all of Scotland, with sufficient left over for export.
But a failure to invest in new greenhouses, a hike in the oil price to heat them and cheap imports from the EEC meant the industry collapsed.
Clyde Valley Tomatoes has been launched with an investment of about £120,000, with funding coming from Clydesdale Bank, South Lanarkshire Council and Scotherbs, a specialist grower based near Dundee.
It is hoped to produce 100 tonnes of tomatoes this year, although there are plans to increase the area under glass to satisfy demand, which is already running ahead of production.Hydroponically
The company has been boosted by research at Glasgow University where scientists have been investigating the health-giving properties of tomatoes.
Their red skin contains licopene, an antioxidant linked to reducing cancer risk, and flavanols which increase blood flow and help protect against sunburn.
Professor Alan Crozier of the School of Medicine said there was evidence that the benefits were felt whether tomatoes were eaten cooked or raw.
"There is evidence that the particular protective compounds in tomatoes survive cooking," he said.
"But I think there is something to be said for having a fresh tomato as part of a salad.
"But you get it in diverse ways, whether it's a paste in pizzas or out of a bottle.
"And again, there is evidence that tomato sauce, the compounds that are in the sauce get in more readily than they do when you eat a whole tomato."
The tomatoes are grown hydroponically either in a rock particulate or using coir, a by-product of the coconut industry.
It is hoped that the crop should last until November, with the temperature in the greenhouses maintained between 16C at night and 25C during the day.