Spalding 2 Coast and Country Auctions


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Spalding 2

Series looking at Britain's traditional markets. A focus on the Spalding Plant and Vegetable Auction in Lincolnshire, the biggest market of its kind in the country.


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We may live in a digital age,

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but a surprising amount of British trade is still done the old-fashioned way...

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RAPID AUCTIONEER'S PATTER

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..at traditional auctions.

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Now's your time to get a bargain.

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These sales may feel like throwbacks to a bygone age...

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..but for the buyers and sellers who flock to them,

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they're still the best way to conduct business.

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At 1,600. Blow your nose and bid again.

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We'll be visiting the UK's most dynamic traditional markets.

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Selling everything from pigs to cattle, sheep dogs to ponies,

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580.

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..fish to veg.

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And discovering how they are the heartbeat of rural life.

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They'll be bargains to be had today.

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-450.

-That's part of being at an auction.

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Today, we are in Lincolnshire at the UK's largest horticultural auction.

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-36 carrots.

-36? We've got another 12 to come, then.

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On we go then to the cabaret.

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110. 120 has the lady bid. Gentleman, 130.

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We'll be meeting the auctioneers in the hot seat...

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-140.

-Yeah, do the best you can and don't mess about today.

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..and following the fortunes of three buyers and sellers.

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I've arrived with an empty van,

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so a successful day would be I can fill it

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and go home with some bargains.

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As they experience all the excitement...

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-You've got accommodation down in DC.

-..and tension...

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Sometimes it's dread news and sometimes it's good.

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..as the hammer falls.

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Oh, they break your heart with this, don't they?

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We're in Spalding, an ancient market town in Lincolnshire,

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the largest county in the East of England.

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It's famed for its big skies and rich soil.

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A quarter of all the UK's plants and vegetables are grown here.

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And on the edge of Spalding

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is Britain's oldest and biggest horticultural market,

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Spalding Auction House.

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This one, that one, that one.

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He grows a few varieties, then.

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It's been going an impressive 70 years

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in this heartland of British horticulture.

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People come people come from a radius of 50, 60 miles here today.

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Some really nice stuff, yeah.

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Nice bit of colour. Good value for money on that.

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10p to 20p per plant could make a lot of difference.

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The auction happens three times a week, come rain or shine

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and often attracts as many as 40 buyers.

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Now including wonky peppers.

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They all taste the same, don't they?

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There are two separate auctions today -

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a veg auction, selling over 1,000 bags and boxes of veg.

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Yes, please. Thank you.

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And a horticultural auction,

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selling 16,000 flowers, plants, and shrubs.

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-Hello, how are you?

-I'm fine, thanks.

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It takes two auctioneers to do the selling.

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-Is it working all right, this week? Because...

-Well, I don't know.

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It was going a little bit funny earlier.

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Claire Pearson on veg.

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Most of the produce we receive

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will have been either cut that day,

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or the previous day. So it is very fresh.

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And Ady Williams on plants.

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The most important thing is knowing your customers

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and knowing what you're selling.

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When you're actually lining up a trolley of plants,

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you know who's going to be bidding for those,

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and what sort of money they're looking to pay.

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So you've virtually know you've sold it before you do.

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-It's a ginseng plant, look.

-Oh, right.

-All swollen roots.

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-That's unusual, isn't it?

-It's a bonsai.

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-Indoor or outdoor?

-Indoor.

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Claire's veg auction is a vital market

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for the region's many smaller growers.

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Look at these, look.

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Lots of the local farmers are quite small.

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They only have a few acres,

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so they're not big enough to sell to multiples.

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This is the perfect outlet for them.

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BELL RINGS

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Time for the auction to begin.

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Morning, everybody.

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-Morning, Claire.

-Did you miss me last week?

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-Who?

-Thank you, Mr Hazell.

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Everything is fresh and must all be sold before the auction is over,

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because it won't be fresh tomorrow.

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We could have 500 lots.

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So we do move through an awful lot of produce.

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We have to go pretty quickly.

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We're on a time limit.

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We have to start at 11:00 and have to be done by 12:30.

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Now we have the sprout stalks.

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These are in fives. Five lots on offer.

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Stop me at £1. £1 bid.

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1.10, 1.20, 1.30.

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1.40. £2.

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2.10, 2.20.

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The veg is being sold to a range of local buyers,

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mostly purchasing for their own shops, restaurants or market stalls.

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2.80 right at the back.

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Any further bids? We're at 2.80.

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Are you bidding, sir? No.

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2.80 then. Right on the back row.

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There's a lot to sell and a need for speed.

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So the auctioneers are moved around on mobile platforms,

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like Wimbledon umpires on wheels.

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When we do the selling, we're sat on a rostrum which is about

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five, six foot up in the air.

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And it is a bit unique because, at other places,

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we'll bring the goods in front of a fixed station.

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But we are not, we are portable.

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At the heart of this auction

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is quality veg from highly experienced producers.

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If you want to buy, you just buy.

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We've got a good relationship with all of our growers.

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They're fairly regular and some of them put in every single sale,

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so they know we're going to do a good job.

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I really would like to start at £2 today.

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All right, after you, keep going.

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They don't come much more regular than seller John Dix.

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He's been bringing his produce here for nearly four decades.

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They are good stuff, whoever they are.

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There's not that many local markets on a Wednesday, see,

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so people can come.

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They come from a long way away here, you know.

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John has nearly a tonne of potatoes for sale today.

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But there's a UK potato glut right now, so he's worried.

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It's a bad year to sell potatoes, because such hellish yields.

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I mean there is talk that

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some of the growers are not even going to lift them.

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Some of the bigger growers.

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Probably an average yield will be 20 tonnes per acre.

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Some of these fellas, this year, are talking about 30.

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But John thinks he'll beat the glut, because the spuds he grows,

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Maris Pipers, are, in his view, irresistible.

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South Lincolnshire Maris Piper is definitely,

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definitely the finest chipping, eating potato in all of the world.

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And that's a fact, sir.

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But he needs good prices,

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because his sales at the auction produce most of his income.

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John lives with his wife Jackie just six miles from Spalding.

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They've been farming their 100 acres here for the past 40 years.

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Jackie and myself do try to do as much as we can ourselves

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because that really is, to me,

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that's what a smallholding always was, you know,

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man and wife working together.

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Like many smallholders,

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they grow a variety of crops throughout the year.

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The field we're in now is sprouting broccoli.

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We grow seven different varieties.

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Its maturity ranges from basically now

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until next May.

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It's a beautiful, beautiful thing to eat.

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Eat it how you want.

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Beautiful. Tastes beautiful.

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But John's biggest passion is his potatoes,

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and there's only one variety that counts.

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There variety we grow is always Maris Piper.

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I've never, ever had a bad comment on the taste, or anything to do with...

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South Lincolnshire Maris Piper, not just ours,

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but South Lincolnshire Maris Piper.

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Again, I'm very biased, obviously. I'm going to be, aren't I?

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We should be ready to start grading, then, ready for tomorrow.

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That's hope they make some money. You never know your luck.

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First introduced in the mid-1960s,

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Maris Piper has become a firm British favourite for chips,

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roasties and mash.

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It's got a beautiful taste.

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Easy to chip for the fish and chip shops, on a commercial basis.

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Baked potato.

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It's just like cream, without cream on it.

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It's the ultimate taste.

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John and Jackie harvested all these potatoes about a month ago.

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They take them in batches to the auction each week,

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so they can keep their customers supplied throughout the winter.

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The grading machine begins by sifting out spuds

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that are too small to sell.

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Jackie then inspects each one to double-check quality

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before being bagged up by John.

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Then onto the pallet.

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Now, in the real modern farming world,

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this would be stacked automatically.

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The only automatic thing about this pallet stacker is me.

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The couple harvest about 100 tonnes of Maris Piper every autumn.

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-Take that one across the bottom.

-That's it.

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And keep them cool, dark and protected from frost

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under a special potato blanket.

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Put that one up a bit.

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But farming can be an unpredictable livelihood

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and, for John, it never stops.

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I actually had a couple of big tractor expenses this year,

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so you've got to keep earning, as any business has.

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You never know what's round the corner, really.

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We all understand the nature of trade and trading.

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You can't always have the top dollar.

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You can't always win, you know.

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And with the UK potato glut causing low prices,

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the auction could be challenging for John.

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No, no, no. No, no!

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This last year was a very good price...

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..for potatoes, last year, because there was just not the crop.

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But always, when that happens, you're in trouble the next year.

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Because everybody jumps in and too many grown.

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The load that I will take tomorrow, I would hope

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for it to gross out between £120 and £150 for the load,

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which is good, you know.

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If we meet that target, I'll be overjoyed.

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On we go.

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Just one little box.

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You've picked the dodgy trolley, haven't you?

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So are we on number 980?

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Yeah. 89460.

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John Dix takes his produce to be sold at Spalding

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twice a week through the winter.

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The reason that Spalding auction, in my opinion,

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is still so very popular,

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as it certainly is - fresh produce, knowing where it's come from,

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knowing where it's grown and they can trust the product.

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He's brought almost a tonne with him,

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loaded in ten kilo and 25 kilo bags.

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He's got a reserve of £1 for the smaller bags

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and £1.80 for the larger ones.

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We all put a reserve price on.

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Which I do. A low reserve, because I want the product to go.

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For John, it's as much about pride as it is about prices.

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So he takes his opportunity to check out the competition.

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I like to have a look around before I go away,

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just to see what the opposition's putting up front today.

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So I can judge whether I'm doing right or wrong on the sales, really,

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you know. It's my own little research.

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Despite this year's potato glut,

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John's spotted something that's cheered him up.

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There are very few Maris Pipers here.

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There's not too many.

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I don't know how many Maris Piper growers are in here,

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but there's probably only a couple

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and you can see there's quite a lot of potatoes in.

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This year, there does seem to be a shortage of Maris Piper.

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Because it's a very difficult potato to grow.

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I mean, some of these spuds,

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you chuck down in the field and they grow on their own nearly.

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But Maris Piper will get every mortal affliction

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that Jesus can throw at it.

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And unless you're ready for it, you'll get caught out.

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So there you go. It's a difficult one to grow, but, this year,

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it's definitely reaping a benefit.

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It's selling quite well.

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I'm not going to say too much,

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because that might fall to bits today, but we'll see.

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-Right, here you are then, Ian.

-Good morning, Mr Dix.

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Yeah, do the best you can and don't mess about today.

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All right? Get shot on them.

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-Thank you very much.

-Thank you. See you tomorrow.

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Like many sellers, John won't be staying at the auction,

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because he is keen to get back to work.

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He'll find out what his produce gets after the event.

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It's pointless hanging around.

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They've got our reserves, we trust them,

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we trust the auctioneers and what's the point?

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Crack on, go home, do something else.

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So, for John, it's now a wait to see if the buyers at the auction

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love his Maris Pipers as much as he does.

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Got a bid here at £5.

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Any further bids?

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John's potatoes are about to go under the hammer.

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Spalding buyers have their own codenames,

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so the likes of Mr July and Mr Mash are getting ready to do battle.

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We'll move along now to the Piper.

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Maris Piper. In the ten kilo bags.

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40 on offer. Stop me at £1.

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£1 bid. One, 1.10, 1.10.

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1.10 on my left. 1.10...

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First up are the 10K bags.

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John was hoping for a minimum of £1 each.

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Anybody else, 1.40? 1.50. 1.50, just here.

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Just in front of me. Do you want to go again, sir, on the back?

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1.50.

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I'm taking this bid at 1.50.

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Mr July. Five bags.

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He's got his price.

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But the bidder only wants five bags.

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The remaining 35 are offered back to the losing bidders.

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1.50 he bids me.

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1.50. Any advance on 1.50?

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Do you want to go again, sir? 1.50.

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If they aren't taken, they might be going back to John.

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I've got a bit at the back of the room for 1.50.

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Team clears.

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A bidder steps up.

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And clears means that he's bought all of them.

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Next up is the larger 25K bags.

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John's brought 20 to sell and has set a low reserve of 1.80 per bag.

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25 kilo bags.

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20 on offer. Start me at 2.50.

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2.50 bid, thank you.

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Got the bid just in front of me. 2.50.

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Anybody else bidding? 2.60.

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Thank you, sir. 2.60.

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Any more bids.

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We are at 2.60.

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I can't see any more hands, can you?

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2.60. Mr Mash.

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The winning bidder for John's spuds pays 2.60 for each bag.

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But it seems he also doesn't want the whole lot.

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Ten to Mr Mash.

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Five to Mr Margin.

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Five left. Who's in for the last five?

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Anybody?

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Nope. On we move, then.

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Thank you, Mr Margin, we're clear.

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It's good news for John.

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His Maris Pipers have done him proud as he's sold all his bags.

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Tonight, he'll get the total figure.

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2.20. 2.30 here.

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2.30.

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With its huge flat fields and rich soil,

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Lincolnshire is Britain's most important county for growing.

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A quarter of all UK veg production happens right here.

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And, in some areas,

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nearly one in four of the population work in agriculture.

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Agriculture and farming is the lifeblood of this area.

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Everything revolves around it.

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Nearly every business that you deal with has got something to do with

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agriculture, even if you go...

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..to the bank,

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there's an agricultural manager for the area from each bank.

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Food and farming contributes a mighty £2.5 billion

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to the local economy,

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making it the third most important business in the region.

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Growing has always been hugely important here

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and Spalding veg auction was founded in 1948,

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as a hub for buying and selling the region's output.

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In the mid-90s,

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the market outgrew its town centre location and moved here

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to the outskirts of town.

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But it remains the beating heart of the county's agri-business.

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We have buyers come here from all over the country

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because they know the product is fresh.

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They can see it with their own eyes.

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Two to Mr Claw.

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Cromer clears. We have two more boxes.

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Anybody else bidding? 1.50.

0:17:520:17:54

Cheers, all.

0:17:550:17:57

The auction tradition for bidders to have codenames goes back some years.

0:17:570:18:01

At 90 bid. I thought you were thinking about bidding, Mr Monster.

0:18:010:18:05

It's a way to avoid the market mixing up clients

0:18:050:18:08

with similar surnames.

0:18:080:18:10

At 95p.

0:18:100:18:12

July.

0:18:120:18:14

But, in the cloak and dagger world of the auction,

0:18:140:18:17

it also allows buyers to operate less obtrusively.

0:18:170:18:20

When you first register with the auction house, you are given a name.

0:18:210:18:25

I was very fortunate because I'd filled my form out correctly and neatly,

0:18:250:18:29

I was allowed to pick my name, so we picked Halo.

0:18:290:18:32

We're still going up here at 1.65.

0:18:320:18:34

Mr Halo.

0:18:340:18:36

They have bidding names, so that has been a challenge,

0:18:360:18:39

learning all of those.

0:18:390:18:40

And the highest bidder will probably...

0:18:420:18:45

I'll say it's Mr whoever wins the bid and they'll go like that.

0:18:450:18:50

And that's how many they want to buy.

0:18:500:18:52

Or whatever.

0:18:520:18:54

Sprout stalk. These are from our finest grower.

0:19:000:19:03

Let's not muck about. 1.50.

0:19:030:19:05

Hold it there, mate.

0:19:050:19:07

I changed the fertiliser this year.

0:19:070:19:10

We did, actually.

0:19:100:19:11

It's not just sellers who rely on the auction for their livelihoods -

0:19:120:19:17

many of those who buy here need to source quality veg from Spalding

0:19:170:19:21

to keep their businesses running.

0:19:210:19:23

Selling then.

0:19:250:19:27

Buyer James Dawson owns a fruit and veg stall in Scunthorpe.

0:19:270:19:31

The auction is vital for him to keep his stall going.

0:19:310:19:35

But he also needs to pay low prices

0:19:350:19:37

to have any chance of making a profit.

0:19:370:19:40

People do tend to prefer to buy locally grown vegetables,

0:19:410:19:45

especially if it's got the word Spalding attached to it,

0:19:450:19:49

or it's grown in that area.

0:19:490:19:50

It does seem to sell better.

0:19:500:19:52

Low prices at auction also have a positive impact on sales,

0:19:520:19:56

so they're doubly important.

0:19:560:19:59

I'm quite reliant on Spalding auction. Price comes into it.

0:19:590:20:02

If I pay less at the auction,

0:20:020:20:04

then the customer pays less on the stall

0:20:040:20:07

and that way I sell a little bit more.

0:20:070:20:09

Hi there, are you all right?

0:20:160:20:18

James's stall is 70 miles away from Spalding

0:20:180:20:21

at Scunthorpe market.

0:20:210:20:22

Anything else I can get you? Just that, yeah? Just 95.

0:20:220:20:25

His family have traded at the market here

0:20:250:20:29

for half a century and James started off on a family plant stall

0:20:290:20:34

before venturing into veg.

0:20:340:20:36

The opportunity came up for the stall,

0:20:360:20:38

which has always been pole position,

0:20:380:20:40

one of the best looking stalls on the market.

0:20:400:20:43

So when that came available, I took the opportunity.

0:20:430:20:45

It is all a bit new to me, really.

0:20:450:20:47

I never used to like veg, really, as a kid, but, yeah,

0:20:480:20:52

I can't get enough of it, really, now. Yeah.

0:20:520:20:54

Pretty much everything James sells is from the Spalding auction.

0:20:550:20:59

His customers love the quality.

0:20:590:21:02

But James knows he has to be very careful with prices.

0:21:020:21:05

There you go.

0:21:050:21:07

Supermarkets have had a huge impact on market traders like James.

0:21:070:21:11

If his prices are too high, he risks having no customers.

0:21:110:21:16

Pop them in there. It's all right.

0:21:160:21:18

Five for a pound.

0:21:180:21:19

The economic superstore of the stall are stark.

0:21:190:21:23

Almost all the income from the weekdays

0:21:230:21:25

is needed to cover overheads.

0:21:250:21:27

So he needs a good day on Saturday and low prices at auction

0:21:270:21:32

if he's to pay himself a wage at all.

0:21:320:21:35

Monday to Friday, that just about covers wages for the week,

0:21:350:21:40

rent, and fuel expenses.

0:21:400:21:43

And it all really hinges on how good a Saturday we have

0:21:430:21:46

to whether I actually draw a wage,

0:21:460:21:49

but the more keen the prices I pay at the auction,

0:21:490:21:52

that can make a difference, sometimes, yeah.

0:21:520:21:54

There you go. Sorry?

0:21:540:21:56

I'm just wondering why them carrots look like that.

0:21:560:21:59

-Well, they're like red ones.

-Oh.

-Nice. Sweet. Yeah.

0:21:590:22:02

That is one of the main reasons why I do buy a lot of my

0:22:020:22:06

stuff of the auction. It is cheaper than the wholesale market.

0:22:060:22:09

Is that right? There you go, then. Thank you.

0:22:090:22:12

Prices tend to be at least 25% cheaper, I would say,

0:22:120:22:17

even when I'm buying the best quality stuff from there,

0:22:170:22:20

it always works out cheaper than the wholesalers.

0:22:200:22:23

There you are, look, there's a good 'un.

0:22:230:22:25

At auction, James has to juggle two competing priorities.

0:22:250:22:29

He has to get stock, or he can't run the stall.

0:22:290:22:32

Thank you, that's lovely.

0:22:320:22:34

But he can't pay too much for anything,

0:22:340:22:36

or he'll have no chance of making a profit.

0:22:360:22:39

On we go, then, to the cabaret.

0:22:440:22:46

No, we won't sing today.

0:22:480:22:50

We sell a lot of the time and everybody wants the big 'uns.

0:22:500:22:53

So there's a lot at stake today for young James.

0:22:540:22:58

He needs the highest quality for the lowest prices.

0:22:580:23:01

I've arrived with an empty van,

0:23:020:23:05

so a successful day would be

0:23:050:23:06

I can fill it and go home with some bargains.

0:23:060:23:09

The canny young stallholder, bidder name Magnolia,

0:23:110:23:15

plans to use his knowledge of how the auction works to his advantage.

0:23:150:23:19

He wants leeks, but he treads carefully.

0:23:200:23:24

Next we have the leeks.

0:23:240:23:25

These are in four and a half kilo boxes.

0:23:270:23:30

Ten boxes on offer.

0:23:300:23:32

Most lots at the auction consist of multiple bags, or boxes,

0:23:320:23:36

of the same vegetable from one supplier.

0:23:360:23:38

If the winning bidder only wants part of the lot,

0:23:400:23:43

the auctioneer will offer the rest to others who have also bid.

0:23:430:23:46

Let's start these of at 2.50.

0:23:470:23:50

Bid. Thank you.

0:23:500:23:51

2.50. 2.60. 2.70. 2.80.

0:23:510:23:53

James offers £2.50 straightaway, but bids no more,

0:23:530:23:57

allowing someone else to win the bidding.

0:23:570:23:59

£3, on my left-hand side.

0:23:590:24:02

£3. 3.10. 3.20.

0:24:020:24:03

Lady's bid at 3.20. 3.30, now, sir.

0:24:030:24:06

3.30 just in front of me.

0:24:060:24:08

3.40 now. Thank you.

0:24:080:24:09

3.40 on my left-hand side.

0:24:090:24:11

3.40. Any further bid?

0:24:110:24:13

I'm at 3.40.

0:24:130:24:14

Beaver.

0:24:140:24:16

Three to Beaver.

0:24:160:24:18

So only three of the ten boxes have gone.

0:24:180:24:21

The rest will be offered to the next highest bidder at the price they bid.

0:24:210:24:26

-Mr Sharp?

-Three, please.

0:24:260:24:28

Three to Mr Sharp.

0:24:280:24:29

One to Hay Green.

0:24:290:24:30

-What's left?

-Magnolia.

0:24:300:24:32

Winner at 3.40 and we've got three left. Three to Magnolia.

0:24:320:24:34

Three to Magnolia. Thank you, sir.

0:24:340:24:36

We go to the rainbow carrots.

0:24:360:24:38

So James pays 2.50 each, his original bid,

0:24:400:24:44

for four boxes of leeks.

0:24:440:24:46

While the top bidder paid 3.40 a box.

0:24:460:24:49

James uses the same technique to get some bargain carrots.

0:24:510:24:55

Would you like three, Mr Magnolia?

0:24:550:24:57

Thank you. Magnolia clears.

0:24:570:24:58

And a host of other veg.

0:24:580:25:00

Carrots, peppers, cauliflowers.

0:25:010:25:04

Four to Mr Magnolia.

0:25:040:25:06

Did you want to take five? He'll take five.

0:25:060:25:07

Thank you. He'll clear.

0:25:070:25:10

It might seem that sellers are losing out, but this method,

0:25:100:25:13

known as under bidding, is designed to ensure that everything gets sold.

0:25:130:25:19

We always try to get the best prices we can for the vendor,

0:25:190:25:22

but, sometimes,

0:25:230:25:25

it's best to sell it at a slightly lower price

0:25:250:25:28

if we know we can clear the product,

0:25:280:25:31

because it's not going to last - it's fresh produce.

0:25:310:25:35

Next are the Tundra.

0:25:360:25:37

These are in sixes.

0:25:370:25:38

30 on offer. Let's go 1.50.

0:25:380:25:40

And there is always good old-fashioned opportunism.

0:25:400:25:44

He's not bidding at all on these cabbages.

0:25:440:25:47

I'm at 1.80, then.

0:25:470:25:48

Any further bids?

0:25:480:25:49

Seven. Ten to Mr Seven.

0:25:500:25:53

One to Canoe.

0:25:530:25:54

Four to Margin.

0:25:540:25:55

That's 15 sold.

0:25:560:25:57

-Half gone.

-But when he realises there's some left,

0:25:570:26:01

he jumps in with a cheeky low bid.

0:26:010:26:04

All 1.50.

0:26:040:26:06

Let's move on to the next lot, then.

0:26:060:26:07

Sorry? Mr Magnolia, would you like some?

0:26:070:26:10

-1.50.

-Oh, they break your heart with this, don't they?

0:26:100:26:14

How about 1.60, sir?

0:26:140:26:15

-Why not?

-He goes 1.60. 1.70 now, you have competition.

0:26:150:26:18

1.70 just in front of me.

0:26:180:26:20

You know how it goes.

0:26:200:26:21

1.70.

0:26:210:26:23

But he's gone too low.

0:26:230:26:25

Another bidder swoops in, ups the bid by 20p and wins.

0:26:250:26:30

Cleared to Mr Chisel.

0:26:300:26:32

Outmanoeuvred, James loses the cabbages.

0:26:320:26:36

Now we're going to the Stemster.

0:26:360:26:39

Next, an all-rounder potato called Stemster.

0:26:390:26:42

25 kilos.

0:26:420:26:43

By going to go 2.50 again.

0:26:430:26:45

2.50 bid. 2.60, 2.70 at the back. 2.80, now.

0:26:450:26:48

James needs spuds for his stall, so this time he's taking no chances.

0:26:480:26:52

Do you want to go again, sir, at the back?

0:26:520:26:54

No. Three. Are you bidding, sir, no?

0:26:540:26:56

£3. I'm with you, sir.

0:26:560:26:58

-Magnolia?

-Usually, before the bidding takes place,

0:26:580:27:02

you've made your mind up how many you would want,

0:27:020:27:05

if you are the winning bidder.

0:27:050:27:07

And you've also set a top price in mind,

0:27:080:27:11

because you know what you want to sell it out at,

0:27:110:27:14

so it's just a case of trying not to get carried away,

0:27:140:27:17

because that's quite easy to do.

0:27:170:27:19

Look at all the anticipation.

0:27:210:27:23

With his livelihood at stake, James has to work hard to ensure

0:27:240:27:28

he gets his vegetables cheap enough to make a profit

0:27:280:27:31

on his stall this week.

0:27:310:27:32

We're going to start them off 1.50. Bid.

0:27:320:27:34

He'll need to buy a lot more veg before the auction is out.

0:27:340:27:38

Six miles away, potato grower John Dix is making that call.

0:27:480:27:52

Eager to find out how well his precious Maris Pipers did

0:27:540:27:57

in the auction.

0:27:570:27:58

Yeah.

0:28:000:28:01

Oh.

0:28:020:28:03

That's good. That'll be the bigger ones.

0:28:080:28:11

Yeah. That's very good, thank you.

0:28:110:28:12

Yeah, cheers, bye. See you Monday.

0:28:130:28:16

The smaller bags were 50% above my reserve price.

0:28:160:28:20

And the larger bags were 33% above my reserve price.

0:28:220:28:28

So I'm very happy with that, so happy days are here again.

0:28:290:28:32

Roll on Monday.

0:28:320:28:34

The ten kilo bags were £1.50

0:28:340:28:36

and the 25kg bags

0:28:360:28:40

were £2.70.

0:28:400:28:41

I'm very happy, very pleased about it.

0:28:410:28:43

I may even have a couple of beers tonight

0:28:430:28:45

but I would have had them whether the price was up or down!

0:28:450:28:48

So an excellent result for John at auction,

0:28:520:28:55

well above what he hoped for and a welcome increase in income -

0:28:550:28:59

for this week, at least.

0:28:590:29:00

We Brits love our potatoes.

0:29:040:29:07

They're worth over £1 billion a year to our national economy

0:29:070:29:10

and nearly 30% of the national crop is grown here in eastern England.

0:29:100:29:15

And the number one UK potato?

0:29:160:29:19

It's that relative newcomer the Maris Piper.

0:29:190:29:22

Lincolnshire has seen many potato varieties come and go

0:29:260:29:29

over the last 100 years or so.

0:29:290:29:31

The King Edward has probably been the best survivor.

0:29:330:29:37

Still eaten now, well over a century since it was first introduced.

0:29:370:29:41

Potatoes need great soil and there's plenty of that here.

0:29:430:29:47

Spalding, the soil is very good, nice silt soil.

0:29:490:29:52

All of the area around Spalding,

0:29:520:29:54

a lot of potatoes and greens are grown.

0:29:540:29:57

The soil is really good, because it never really dries out.

0:29:580:30:01

It always holds quite a bit of moisture.

0:30:010:30:05

And it's so easy to work.

0:30:050:30:06

The rich soil is good for flowers, too.

0:30:080:30:11

Tulip growing was once big business here.

0:30:110:30:13

The industry is much depleted - gone to Holland and elsewhere.

0:30:150:30:19

But flower growing on a big scale

0:30:200:30:22

remains key to Lincolnshire's agri-economy.

0:30:220:30:25

So the plants are every bit as important

0:30:270:30:30

to the auction house as the veg.

0:30:300:30:31

At 80p. At the back of the room, sir, at 90.

0:30:390:30:41

You're being told off, Mrs Wisbech.

0:30:410:30:43

I'm glad it's not just me that gets told off.

0:30:430:30:46

Auctioneer Ady's horticultural sale is going great guns

0:30:470:30:51

with about half the 16,000 plants, shrubs, and trees already sold.

0:30:510:30:56

43 bid. 44. 44.

0:30:570:31:00

With a resigned look on his face, Dixon.

0:31:000:31:03

There's about 30 buyers here today, from market stalls,

0:31:030:31:07

garden centres, and independent shops throughout the county.

0:31:070:31:10

Among the big guns is Charles Stubbs -

0:31:130:31:17

a man with a serious business empire,

0:31:170:31:19

but who always finds time to come to the auction.

0:31:190:31:22

Before buying a plant,

0:31:220:31:24

it's very important to see it

0:31:240:31:26

and it's something you need to touch

0:31:260:31:29

and feel and smell.

0:31:290:31:31

Going to the auction and getting there early, to make sure that you

0:31:330:31:37

look at the product

0:31:370:31:38

and make sure it's a quality that you want to buy

0:31:380:31:41

is still very important.

0:31:410:31:43

It's not something you can do over the internet.

0:31:430:31:45

Now we're going to azaleas. There's two lots of 12.

0:31:450:31:48

With a chain of ten garden centres to keep supplied,

0:31:480:31:52

Charles needs to buy around 4,000 plants today.

0:31:520:31:55

But margins are tight, so the price must be right, too.

0:31:570:32:00

At 1.60. I can't see movement at the back.

0:32:010:32:04

Porter.

0:32:040:32:05

The flagship garden centre of Charles's empire is at Brigg,

0:32:120:32:16

about 65 miles from the auction.

0:32:170:32:19

They started trading here nearly 20 years ago.

0:32:220:32:24

My passion has always been plants.

0:32:260:32:28

I opened my first garden centre in 1990.

0:32:280:32:31

We've now built ourselves to a chain of ten.

0:32:310:32:34

We ought to try and bring a bit more colour through here.

0:32:340:32:37

Working in this world was always Charles's dream.

0:32:380:32:41

I was probably only 11 or 12 when I sold my first plant.

0:32:420:32:46

I was literally outside mum and dad's house, sat on the roadside,

0:32:460:32:50

selling conifers, eggs, and bags of potatoes.

0:32:500:32:54

That really gave me a bug for the industry.

0:32:540:32:57

I've got a few pound in my pocket and I thought I'd won the lottery.

0:32:570:33:01

I employed my first person when I was 14,

0:33:010:33:04

so I would look after the business at weekends

0:33:040:33:07

and they would do it in the week.

0:33:070:33:09

See if we've got some more stock.

0:33:090:33:12

From those small beginnings,

0:33:120:33:13

he's built one of the region's biggest horticultural businesses.

0:33:130:33:18

For me, running a garden centre isn't just about numbers,

0:33:180:33:21

it's about making the day a fun place to work,

0:33:210:33:25

a fun place for people to come out.

0:33:250:33:27

From the children's train, to the full-size maze,

0:33:330:33:37

Charles's vision is to make his garden centres an experience.

0:33:370:33:41

The latest new attraction - dinosaurs.

0:33:430:33:46

The dinosaurs here,

0:33:500:33:51

some of these were bought from a bankrupt crazy golf course.

0:33:510:33:56

My team thought I was mad and still do,

0:33:560:34:00

but I think it gives it a real feel

0:34:000:34:02

and gives our customers something to smile about.

0:34:020:34:05

We get a lot of visitors coming.

0:34:070:34:09

They can be here three, four, five hours, just to walk round.

0:34:090:34:12

They do love the experience.

0:34:120:34:13

The experience does its job, bringing in customers to buy plants.

0:34:150:34:20

Plants are still a huge part of our business,

0:34:200:34:22

that's still the core of a garden centre.

0:34:220:34:25

We sell anything from bedding, to trees, to house plants.

0:34:250:34:29

The range of plants is still very vital to the survival

0:34:290:34:32

of a modern garden centre.

0:34:320:34:35

I'm just filling up...

0:34:350:34:36

..my benches after a busy day. These benches were full yesterday.

0:34:380:34:42

Despite the time of year,

0:34:480:34:50

business at Brigg is brisk

0:34:500:34:53

with around 4,000 customers visiting today.

0:34:530:34:55

Stock needs to be replaced quickly, so the auction is vital.

0:34:570:35:01

To have had a successful day at the auction, um, yeah,

0:35:020:35:06

I need to have bought probably two or three vanfuls.

0:35:060:35:09

And that means buying the right product

0:35:100:35:13

at, hopefully, a bargain price.

0:35:130:35:15

This week, I'm hoping we'll buy some wreaths,

0:35:160:35:18

there'll be some good planted bowls,

0:35:180:35:20

there'll be some good house plants in there.

0:35:200:35:23

It still gives me as bigger buzz now as it did do 30 years ago.

0:35:230:35:27

I still love getting a bargain.

0:35:270:35:29

95. It's a Leicestershire bidder, ladies and gentlemen.

0:35:320:35:35

Lovett. That's it, Miss Lovett clears.

0:35:350:35:38

Charles, bidder name to WGC for Woodthorpe garden centre -

0:35:380:35:43

another in the empire -

0:35:430:35:45

needs to buy 4,000 or so plants at the auction today.

0:35:450:35:48

Found on the front row.

0:35:480:35:50

So he'd better get stuck in.

0:35:500:35:53

Lot number nine is another individual lot...

0:35:530:35:55

And he's off, bidding 70p a plant on some white cyclamen.

0:35:570:36:02

-70.

-But he's up against rival regular buyer Chris Porter.

0:36:020:36:06

Selling now at 80p. Mr Ray Manning.

0:36:060:36:09

And they both lose.

0:36:090:36:10

Not doing very well today.

0:36:110:36:14

-Plenty of time.

-There's plenty of time. Yeah.

0:36:140:36:17

Seven lots of six holly wreaths.

0:36:170:36:18

That's what you're bidding for, ladies and gentlemen.

0:36:180:36:20

Were going to start the bidding offers £6.

0:36:200:36:22

I think will make more bids. £6.

0:36:220:36:24

Chris bids on the holly.

0:36:240:36:25

6.60. 6.80. £7 bid.

0:36:250:36:27

So does Charles.

0:36:270:36:29

Both raising the bid, ladies and gentlemen. At 7.20.

0:36:290:36:32

Gentleman bidders are out now.

0:36:320:36:34

Mrs Wisbech.

0:36:340:36:36

Two lots for Wisbech.

0:36:360:36:37

Do you want to bid £7, WGC?

0:36:380:36:40

Two, please. Charles kept them for what he bid, £7.

0:36:400:36:44

How about you at 6.80, Mr Porter?

0:36:440:36:46

-Yes, please.

-Clear? How about that.

0:36:460:36:48

But rival Chris Porter gets the rest at what he bid - 20p less.

0:36:480:36:53

I hate it when he buys cheaper than me.

0:36:540:36:57

Time for Charles to get his game face on.

0:36:570:37:00

-They're nice.

-Yeah, they are.

0:37:000:37:02

Calluna trio. Three colours in a pot.

0:37:020:37:05

The tricoloured heather takes his fancy and he jumps in.

0:37:060:37:09

I'm bid 65.

0:37:090:37:10

At 75. Lancashire buyer, ladies and gentlemen.

0:37:100:37:13

WGC, 80 bid. Now you're in the limelight, sir, five.

0:37:130:37:16

At 85. You're out in the spotlight, sir. 90. That's it, sir.

0:37:160:37:19

But another rival bidder's in there, too.

0:37:190:37:21

And 95, but you've got competition, WGC.

0:37:210:37:24

At 95p. Don't be beaten, WGC.

0:37:240:37:27

Charles holds back.

0:37:270:37:29

At 95p.

0:37:290:37:30

July. And Mr July gets it.

0:37:310:37:34

Small lot for July.

0:37:340:37:36

But it's not over.

0:37:360:37:37

Would you like to big one at 90, WGC?

0:37:370:37:39

-Thank you.

-He takes the big lot at 90.

0:37:390:37:41

The only bidder.

0:37:410:37:43

As underbidder, Charles gets the bigger lot at 90p a plant.

0:37:430:37:48

Now Charles really gets on a roll.

0:37:480:37:50

WGC.

0:37:500:37:51

Buying baskets...

0:37:510:37:53

At £8.

0:37:530:37:55

WGC.

0:37:550:37:56

Lot number 9, at £2 for the 10, bid.

0:37:560:37:59

-It's WGC.

-..and buckets.

-4.75.

0:37:590:38:01

It's WGC.

0:38:010:38:04

-Thank you.

-WGC has cleared.

0:38:040:38:06

Even these reindeer pots can't throw him off course.

0:38:060:38:09

Oh-ho!

0:38:110:38:12

Slippery characters.

0:38:130:38:15

By the time he's done, he's spent a little over £4,000.

0:38:150:38:19

Lots seven and eight.

0:38:190:38:21

Got the volume he needed and, above all, some bargains.

0:38:210:38:25

-WGC.

-Really nice stuff.

0:38:270:38:29

Yeah. Nice bit of colour. Good value for money on that.

0:38:290:38:33

They were just over a pound.

0:38:330:38:34

I'll probably sell them for about five.

0:38:340:38:36

Today I think I've generally bought well.

0:38:370:38:40

A couple of things I've may be paid a little bit too much for,

0:38:400:38:42

but very happy how the day's gone.

0:38:420:38:44

Yeah. There should be some good deals for us and our customers.

0:38:440:38:48

Charles bought nearly 4,500 plants, pots,

0:38:510:38:55

trees and shrubs today.

0:38:550:38:57

About two vans' worth.

0:38:570:38:59

Enough to keep his garden centre empire well supplied.

0:39:010:39:04

For the next few days, at least.

0:39:060:39:08

We're moving on to the celeriac.

0:39:150:39:16

We've got 18 by 6.

0:39:160:39:20

The veg auction is drawing to a close.

0:39:200:39:23

Buyer James Dawson still needs some key items

0:39:230:39:27

to keep his market stall going.

0:39:270:39:30

But with margins tight, he needs to buy at low prices.

0:39:300:39:34

-Anybody else?

-Yeah, I've been outbid on a few things, but,

0:39:340:39:38

I'm not going to pay over the odds.

0:39:380:39:40

-Onto the dirty carrots.

-Hopefully, I'll get my carrots.

0:39:400:39:42

Up next are dirty carrots.

0:39:420:39:45

Cheaper because they are unwashed.

0:39:450:39:47

We have the bunches first.

0:39:470:39:50

16 by 12.

0:39:500:39:52

Start me off at £50 bid.

0:39:520:39:53

Thank you. £50. 55. 55, 60. 60, just in front of me at 60.

0:39:530:39:59

Any further bids? We're at 60.

0:39:590:40:01

-Chisel.

-Rather than driving the price up

0:40:010:40:05

by trying to outbid his rival, James drops out.

0:40:050:40:08

As he has before,

0:40:080:40:10

hoping the top bidder won't want all of the lot

0:40:100:40:13

and he'll get what he wants at a lower price as underbidder.

0:40:130:40:17

Five to Mr Chisel.

0:40:170:40:19

-Mr Magnolia, you were the only bidder.

-Five.

-Five he wants.

0:40:190:40:22

And it's worked.

0:40:220:40:23

He's got bunches of dirty carrots at just 60p each.

0:40:230:40:28

That's all for me, thanks.

0:40:280:40:30

He's got what he needs to keep the market stall going

0:40:300:40:34

for another week and he's managed to keep his spending low.

0:40:340:40:37

Hi, boy. Loading figure?

0:40:370:40:39

Yes, please, thank you.

0:40:390:40:40

Today, I mean, I've bought sweet chillies, caulis,

0:40:440:40:47

leeks, onions, potatoes,

0:40:470:40:51

broccoli, lettuce.

0:40:510:40:53

There's more people here on Wednesday,

0:40:530:40:55

so prices are a little bit more expensive.

0:40:550:40:58

But a few things I've missed out on, but there we go.

0:40:580:41:02

Best buy today would probably be caulis, because they're in 12s.

0:41:020:41:06

Normally, their only in sixes

0:41:060:41:07

and so they've worked out cheaper than normal, yeah.

0:41:070:41:11

It's been a good auction for young James.

0:41:120:41:15

He's got the quantity and range of veg he needs,

0:41:150:41:18

but has managed to get it all for less than £200.

0:41:180:41:22

He's bagged enough bargains

0:41:220:41:23

to ensure that he won't just break even this week,

0:41:230:41:26

but should make enough profit to pay himself a decent wage.

0:41:260:41:29

After two auctions, over 1,000 bags, boxes, and nets of veg,

0:41:360:41:41

and more than 15,000 plants, trees and shrubs later,

0:41:420:41:46

today's Spalding market is over.

0:41:470:41:49

Thank you very much for coming.

0:41:510:41:52

We'll see you again next week.

0:41:520:41:54

Thank you, goodbye.

0:41:540:41:55

Really went well today.

0:41:560:41:58

We had all sorts, from small garden centres, market traders,

0:41:580:42:03

people who sell on their gate.

0:42:030:42:05

Luckily, they all turned up today, so it was really good.

0:42:050:42:08

It speaks for itself on how important it is to all the buyers.

0:42:080:42:12

They come from far and wide, all over the country, to go there.

0:42:120:42:15

It was a good day, everybody's happy.

0:42:150:42:17

Didn't have any complaints.

0:42:170:42:18

A lot of people went home smiling.

0:42:180:42:20

It's a tough business and margins are tight,

0:42:230:42:26

but John Dix for one is determined to remain philosophical.

0:42:260:42:30

Always bear in mind that famous,

0:42:320:42:34

famous line from Rudyard Kipling's poem If.

0:42:340:42:38

Success and failure, treat both those impostors just the same.

0:42:380:42:43

Because this week you'll be up, next week you'll be down.

0:42:430:42:46

So let's just take the mean from life and keep living.

0:42:460:42:50

Thank you.

0:42:500:42:51

Lincolnshire is the heartland of UK horticulture, growing a quarter of all Britain's veg and Spalding Plant and Vegetable Auction is the biggest market of its kind in the country. They run three sales every week, selling as many as 1,000 bags and boxes of veg, and up to 16,000 plants, shrubs and trees each day. For the region's many smaller growers, they are the perfect sales outlet.

Local farmer John Dix is selling nearly a tonne of potatoes today. He's a man who loves his product: 'south Lincolnshire maris pipers are the best potatoes in the world. That's a fact!'. But there's been a national potato glut recently, so prices could be a worry. Buyer James Dawson has a bustling fruit and veg stall in Scunthorpe Market, 70 miles away. The Spalding Auction is vital for him. He has to strike a careful balance between getting the stock he needs to keep the stall running, but paying low enough prices that he can make a profit and pay himself a wage. Among the 30 or so buyers at the plant sale is Charles Stubbs, a man with a local empire of ten garden centres to buy for. He needs 4,000 plants, trees and shrubs today to fill two vans and keep the empire supplied.