Sandringham Estate is made up of 6,400 hectares of farmland of which eight tenant farmers rent 4,000 hectares, with 1,400 hectares of woodland and 80 hectares of orchards and soft fruits, together with a number of village properties and other land. There is a diverse range of crops grown on the Sandringham Estate. Those grown on lands run by the Estate (40% of the agricultural land) include wheat, barley, oil seed rape, vining peas, sugar beet, beans, oats, parsnips, maize, and millet. The majority of crops are farmed conventionally but an increasing amount of organic farming also takes place.
The peas grown on the Sandringham Estate are 150 minute peas, so called because they take 150 minutes at the most to transfer them from vine to freezer, thus keeping their flavour and goodness at optimum levels. The peas are picked in late July with a pea viner which is used by a cooperative of farms in the area. They are then frozen in King’s Lynn and distributed to stores and supermarkets locally for their frozen vegetable section.
The Estate has initiated a number of innovations, with continuing investment in buildings and machinery, to keep the farm at the forefront of technological advances including, for example, automatic steering of combine harvesters and automatic steering of tractors through satellite navigation. A farm machine and vehicle washer which uses recycled water was a recent innovation by the farm manager to cut down the amount of water used on the Estate. Diversification is also not new at Sandringham; King George V pioneered the re-introduction of flax growing in Norfolk in 1931, and it was King George VI who introduced the apple orchards in 1936.
The Estate is one of the 40 growers in the UK who produce blackcurrants for Ribena. 40 hectares of blackcurrants are grown, and harvested at the end of July. The harvest is very weather-dependent, needing dry weather, so it can take between 10 and 20 days to complete. The blackcurrants are tested for sugar content before they are picked. A blackcurrant harvester is driven through the fields and picks the currants mechanically into bins, which are monitored by workers standing next to them. The full bins are taken to the fruit store and then carried by lorry to Somerset where they are pressed to make Ribena.
The Estate continues to diversify, and the latest trials include fruit and vegetables being grown in the old Walled Garden for use in the Sandringham Visitor Centre Restaurant, and an experimental organic black truffle plantation. This was established after the ground conditions were found to be ideal for oak and hazel trees infected with truffle spores – with the Estate’s orchard expertise and kennels with the skills to train dogs to find truffles in the future, it was thought that the venture might be worthwhile. The truffles could eventually be used in the Royal kitchens and the farm shops.