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Colchester farmer's echium crop creates stunning purple-blue carpet

PUBLISHED: 09:12 18 July 2019 | UPDATED: 07:56 19 July 2019

Fairking Ltd co-director Andrew Fairs amid his echium crop in the village of Feering  Picture: JOE GIDDENS/PA WIRE

Fairking Ltd co-director Andrew Fairs amid his echium crop in the village of Feering Picture: JOE GIDDENS/PA WIRE

Essex farmer Andrew Fairs' echium crop - now in full flower - depends solely on natural pollinators.

Fairking Ltd co-director Andrew Fairs (left) and farming partner Steve Crayston (right) inspect their crop of echium  Picture: JOE GIDDENS/PA WIREFairking Ltd co-director Andrew Fairs (left) and farming partner Steve Crayston (right) inspect their crop of echium Picture: JOE GIDDENS/PA WIRE

Andrew is co-director at Fairking Ltd, at Great Tey, Colchester, which specialises in growing a range of unusual crops, including echium and borage, which it has grown for the past 30 years.

Fairking now farms over 6000 acres of the echium flower, which is harvested for its seed. The oil is extracted and used in cosmetics, food and nutraceuticals to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, rheumatioid arthritis and skin conditions such as eczema.

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The success of the crop relies on pollinators in the area including bees, hoverflies and butterflies, which now fill the air around them.

The farm also grows crops like quinoa - a food which has grown in popularity in Britain but hitherto imported - and camelina, an annual herb used in foodstuffs and skincare products and soaps.

Fairking Ltd co-director Andrew Fairs (left) and farming partner Steve Crayston (right) in the echium crop  Picture: JOE GIDDENS/PA WIREFairking Ltd co-director Andrew Fairs (left) and farming partner Steve Crayston (right) in the echium crop Picture: JOE GIDDENS/PA WIRE

His borage and echium crops won't be harvested for a while yet.

"Swathing (a kind of mechanical scything) will start within two weeks and the harvest of these will follow about 14 days after the swather," he says.

Meanwhile, his chia crop is just starting to show its flower buds, and he expects it to be in flower in around two weeks with harvest following in late September.

His quinoa crop has just about finished flowering, and the seeds are setting, reading to be harvested in the middle of September.

Flowering echium  Picture: JOE GIDDENS/PA WIREFlowering echium Picture: JOE GIDDENS/PA WIRE

The camelina crop has just started to senesce (turn), changing from green to golden yellow. It will be harvested in about four weeks.

Andrew farms over a 4,900 acre area through a mix of owned, tenanted and share farmed land, and they also grow conventional crops.

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He has already harvested his oilseed rape crop, which he says has yielded "remarkably well" this year, and his winter barley is now ready to combine and is looking 'well'.

Andrew Fairs' fields of echium from above  Picture: JOE GIDDENS/PA WIREAndrew Fairs' fields of echium from above Picture: JOE GIDDENS/PA WIRE

He expects his peas to be ready in 10 days, and while the crop looks OK, his is concerned that the pigeons and rooks are paying them more attention than he would like.

His wheat crop will need to be ready from July 30 as he has contracts to fulfil on August 1, but it is looking 'very well' compared to last year.

Fairking, run by Peter, Penny and Andrew Fairs, places individual buy back contracts with growers in the UK.

It cultivates specialists seed crops - as it has been doing for the past 125 years through family farming partnership H J Fairs & Son - and also processes and conditions the specialist seeds produced.

Even now, things could go wrong for some of the Fairs' crops, if the weather takes a wrong turn, explains Andrew.

"The borage and echium is now quite dense, heavy rain and or strong winds could wreak havoc by pushing it over into the ground where it would rot and not ripen.

"The same could be said for the wheat and barley. What we don't want either is any prolonged wet spell of weather which would bring harvest to a halt."

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