Posted 10th Jul 2017
To celebrate Great British Pea Week (10th-16th July), we talk to Russell Corfield
"Peas were ingrained in my childhood, I’d say we ate them about four nights a week – in everything from shepherd’s pie to pasta dishes" says Russell Corfield, manager of Aylsham Growers, who developed his love of peas from a young age when he used to hand pick them from the garden. Now peas are a way life, even featuring on his wedding day where they served pea shots as one of their canapes.
Up until 2009, Russell was working as a Technical Manager in New Zealand for AS Wilcox and it was on returning home that his venture into harvesting really began. An advertisement in Farmer’s Weekly for a job at Aylsham Growers caught his attention and despite being the youngest applicant, he got the job, he reckons it’s because he’s, “as green as it came to knowing about pea growing!” He learnt the hard way in his first year which has now turned out to be crucial to his success in the business nine years later. From looking after 1157ha of peas and beans when he first began, Russell now grows 2300ha of peas and beans, in addition to 800ha of maize and 225ha of Hybrid Rye for his Biogas plant at Scottow.
Growing peas is no piece of cake – Russell’s role sees him coordinating all stages of the process from sourcing the land, putting a drilling programme together, ordering seed and drilling crops to tending to the fields and monitoring crop growth right through to harvest. “Coordinating the harvest is like a military operation”, explains Russell, “A 24hr operation for 8-10 weeks, at times the harvesting season can be incredibly demanding, particularly towards the end of the season when I am harvesting peas and beans and trying to juggle my time between the two”.
"Despite the challenging process, my phone ringing off the hook and the intense and busy nature of the job, I truly enjoy every day. The added pressure and unpredictable nature of it is exciting. Not knowing what the weather will do or what available space there’s going to be - It’s like juggling a whole heap of balls continually and trying to make the right decision in an ever changing situation".
"You never truly switch off from the job. I often wake in the middle of the night as my brain never switches off but I wouldn’t want to do anything else"!
What’s Russell’s secret to growing the perfect pea?
"The sweetest tasting pea is produced using good varieties that are established well with a kind growing season".
How does Russell like his peas?
Russell likes his peas in their simplest form, handpicked from the field and eaten straight from the pod. So much so, he has built up a reputation at Aylsham for being known to eat at least a kilo of peas a week during the harvest!’