HE IS the last commercial tomato grower in Scotland ... but Jim Shanks is unlikely to gain a boost in demand from the current shortage of salad and vegetable imports.

His tomatoes are not due to come on stream until April, by which time it is hoped the shelves in UK supermarkets will no longer be empty.

However, even with the return of imports, which have been hit by the effects of Brexit and poor weather conditions abroad, Shanks is confident his tomatoes will move fast because of their unique selling point as the only commercial ones still grown on Scottish soil.

In the past, he has been bewildered by supermarkets’ failure to capitalise on this, with some insisting instead that tomatoes are sold under their own label, often embellished with a Union flag.

This year, the tomatoes are going into Aldi and Morrisons which appear to have no problem selling them under a Saltire sticker to emphasise their provenance.

Previously Asda has sold around two-thirds of the annual 700 tonnes produced at the Scottish Borders farm, even though Shanks believes they could have marketed them much better.

“All we got was a Union flag on the packs which said they were grown in Rox, UK, so they did not push our unique selling point and even folk in the Borders didn’t understand that Rox is short for Roxburghshire,” he said.

“However Morrisons are pretty decent and put a Saltire and my name on them and I think Aldi could do a good job this year as they are not scared to let local produce in and brand it as local produce.

"With most of the others – and one in particular – it has to be their brand or it isn’t going in. It all has to be homogenised and sanitised and their brand.

“Supermarkets tell customers they want local brands but they just want something simple and cheap.”

This is the seventh season of tomatoes at Shank’s Standhill Farm near Hawick and the family business is going well even though all the other tomato growers in Scotland have given up.

Last year, he began supplying Glasgow Fruit Market with between two and three tonnes of fruit weekly, meaning that the tomatoes could then be found in local shops all over Scotland.

“That worked really well and we got a huge response from people emailing and texting to tell us they had our tomatoes and they tasted and smelled like the ones their grandfathers used to grow, so that was really nice,” said Shanks.

For many customers, it brought back wistful memories of the tomatoes that used to be grown in the Clyde Valley and were much sought after because of their superb flavour.

During the 1950s and 1960s in particular, there were hundreds of growers and acres of glasshouses as far as the eye could see in the Clyde Valley but the advent of supermarkets and their drive to keep costs down, as well as the energy costs involved meant the businesses gradually became less viable.

For Shanks, it was a bold move to go into tomato growing after so many businesses had given up, but as a dairy farmer, he was keen to become more eco-friendly and began to look at farms abroad that were producing their own electricity from slurry.

Shanks realised the by-products could be used to grow tomatoes and after four years of research, he started his first crop.

“We were starting from scratch and a huge amount of skills had to be pulled on – not least going to a bank manager and saying ‘okay, we have this enterprise and we think it is going to work but every other business that has done that in Scotland hasn’t worked over the last few years’,” he said.

Energy at the farm near Hawick is produced from the dairy herd slurry which powers a biogas tank connected to a generator that creates clean renewable electricity.

The electricity is used by the farm with the surplus two-thirds sold to the national grid. Meanwhile, the tomatoes in their glasshouse absorb the waste CO2, turning it into oxygen.

Water is supplied by rainfall, making the farm as circular as possible.

The system works so well, it has attracted much interest from visitors including ones brought by an American tour company.

“We are very proud of what we do and looking forward to going into production again,” said Shanks.

Until then, Scottish consumers will just have to wait.