A new series of experiments
at Brogdale, funded by the National Fruit Collections Trust, aims to test the
theory that future changes to the UK’s climate could be beneficial for apple
Professor Paul Hadley of
the University of Reading, and an NFCT Trustee, said, “Climate change is
affecting top fruit already. Our data shows that apple varieties are now
flowering on average 17 days earlier each spring than 60 years ago. There are
pros and cons to changes to apple flowering and harvest times, but these are
likely to change the face of apple growing and lead to different varieties of UK
fruit on supermarket shelves in the UK. This research will enable both
professional growers and gardeners to learn how to adapt production techniques
to cope with possible changes in the climate, and also identify varieties which
are suitable for the UK’s future climate.”
The experiments will be
carried out in a new 0.6 hectare facility under polythene covers, with trees of
more than 15 varieties of apple. The varying conditions produce diverse
flowering and harvest times, as well as growth habits and winter chill
requirement. Earlier blossom and harvest times may affect fruit quality and
storage potential, but how significant these changes will be is not yet known.
Tim Biddlecombe, of the
Fruit Advisory Service Team and Secretary to the National Fruit Collections
Trust, added, “Over the last 20 years, growers have been adapting to earlier
seasons, but it is important to understand the implications if this trend
continues. Obvious changes like earlier flowering could increase the risk of
damage from frost during blossom, while earlier harvest would provide English
apples to consumers earlier in the year and so extend the marketing period for
English Apples & Pears (EAP) has unveiled a new strategy that it hopes will see the UK top fruit sector fulfil its potential over the next twelve years.
The Great British Apples strategy, which is presented in a video on the EAP website, includes a target to increase production and boost the market share of the UK crop from its current level of 42 per cent to 60 per cent by 2030.
EAP chair Ali Capper says in the film, “In our opinion there’s a massive opportunity for growth. With the right support from both government and retail there’s an opportunity to grow market share to 60 per cent by 2030. Everyone at English Apples & Pears is up for the challenge.”
Among the areas that the strategy wants to see improved are immigration policy, technology, investment in what consumers want, and telling the story of UK apples. “Our first priority is to work with the government to secure the immigration policies that our sector needs,” Capper said.
Speaking to journalist Fred Searle at the FPJ Live event in Coventry last week, Capper agreed that it was “quite a punchy” target, adding: “It doesn’t get more long term than planning orchards, and that long term nature means that we need a good relationship with retailers.”
As the British apple season gets into full swing, producers have reiterated concerns about the availability of labour and the potential impacts on the future of the UK fruit industry.
“All British apples are picked by hand, which means that the harvest from orchards is highly labour-intensive,” Steven Munday, chief executive of English Apples and Pears told The Guardian. “We’re working hard with the National Farmers’ Union and other bodies to lobby for access to the required seasonal labour after Brexit.”
John Hardman of labour provider Hops added, “We have managed to scrape by this year but 2018 is going to be a cliff edge. Apples and pears are a particular problem because it’s such a short season – typically six weeks, which means we cannot attract UK workers because of the welfare system.”
Trade magazine Fresh Produce Journal has announced that dessert apples have once again topped its annual survey of the most important fresh produce lines in the UK in terms of sales value.
According to the FPJ apple sales grew 5.6 per cent in terms of value last year despite a drop in volume of 2.2 per cent. The magazine says that further growth is expected in the category.
The survey, which is carried out in conjunction with Kantar Worldpanel put grapes in second place, followed by tomatoes, bananas and strawberries. While soft fruit and salad vegetables performed well in general, the value of cherries and parsnips both fell over the last 12 months.
“The past year has been a turbulent one for the fresh produce trade, with Brexit raising major question marks and concerns about the future of the industry,” said FPJ Big 50 Products editor, Fred Searle. “For the time being, the sector is in healthy shape. While the supermarket price war continues to affect certain products, such as parsnips and carrots, in other categories growers have breathed a sigh of relief as some price inflation returns. This is a welcome development given the slower volume growth seen this time around.”
Golden yellow apple variety Opal, a cross between Golden Delicious and Topaz, is continuing to see steady year on year growth in sales according to Opal Apples UK.
The variety which has a distinctive colour, attractive taste and is resistant to browning continues to attract interest from growers and customers according to marketing director Rosemary Lalley. She recently told reporters, “Discussions continue as interest grows in what is a ‘stand out’ apple variety, offering the consumer something really different that delivers great eating qualities on a consistent basis.”
From just 2,000 trees in 2009, there are now 45 hectares or around 136,000 trees in the UK. The largest concentration is in Kent, but there are also orchards in Hereford, Norfolk, Essex and Hampshire, after the company sent potential growers sample trees as Crhistmas presents to attract interest in the variety. Further planting are planned for 2019.
Adopting fruit-wall orchards instead of traditional systems could make mechanical pruning of apple trees easier and reduce costs according to AHDB Horticulture.
Increasing labour costs and uncertainties about future labour availability means that many growers are looking for ways to reduce their reliance on human labour. Modern intensive orchards are already simpler and easier to prune than traditional ones but can still require 25-40 hours of labour per hectare. In fruit-wall orchards, mechanical pruning work rates vary between 1.5 and 2.5 hours per hectare, so even though some hand-pruning will be needed, there is potential to save around £3,000 per hectare over an orchard’s 15-year life.
AHDB Horticulture has spent the last four years investigating the tree types and pruning regimes most suitable for use in a fruit-wall orchard in the UK in two projects and has now generated a number of recommendations about the timing of pruning.
Scott Raffle, Knowledge Exchange Manager at AHDB Horticulture, said, “The results from these projects could have a really positive impact on fruit growers and we look forward to sharing these results, and other research project updates, with our growers.”
An update from the research projects will be presented at the AHDB/EMR Association Tree Fruit Conference, which takes place on 28 February at NIAB EMR in Kent.
Tesco has partnered with leading organic dairy, Yeo Valley, and Adam Wakeley, the UK’s largest organic fruit grower to create an exclusive new Apple and Custard Left-Yeovers yogurt which helps to tackle food waste. The yogurt uses visually imperfect, but great tasting apples, to create the seasonal flavour.
The Left-Yeovers range, which has been championed by Tesco in recent months, helps to prevent food waste by using surplus fruit from the Yeo Valley storerooms, and also raises money for a very important cause, with 10p from every pot sold donated to food redistribution charity, FareShare. Previous Left-Yeovers flavours have included Strawberry & Fig, Plum & Custard and Banoffee, and have raised £20,000 for FareShare so far.
Adrian Carne Joint Managing Director of Yeo Valley commented, “Our Apples and Custard yogurt is made with organic Santana fruit grown in Gloucester. The juicy apples are blended with a creamy custard yogurt made in our Somerset dairy.”
AC Goatham & Son has won the East Kent Fruit Society’s Best Orchard competition for an orchard of Zari at Shrubbery Farm in Eastry near Deal in Kent.
Shrubbery Farm also won the award for the Best Orchard under 1,000 trees and Zari also won the Class D Best Dessert category.
The farm includes 120 acres of topfruit, including 28 acres of Royal Gala, 34 of Zari, eight of Cox and 17 of Comice and Conference pears.
The Zari orchard is planted on wires with a 3m cane system, as part of a company-wide scheme to plant one million new trees across 17 farms by 2020. The planting distance is 3.5m between the rows and 1.2m within the rows and the orchard uses Malus and Golden Delicious as pollinators.
Nigel Stewart, technical director at AC Goatham, said, “We are absolutely delighted to have won the Orchard Competition, along with the other two titles. We strive for uniformity and perfection across all of our orchards and this particular Zari orchard is a real showcase of the team’s growing skills.”
According to Tesco, a new apple variety which actually improves in store is set to ‘transform the UK apple industry.’
Red Prince, which is a cross between Golden Delicious and Red Jonathan, is grown in Kent by Adrian Scripps and will marketed through Tesco stores around the country. “We use the very latest storage technology to put the apple to sleep by lowering the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the cold store to ultra-low levels,” explains Adrian Scripps managing director James Simpson. “Apples are monitored daily for any change in the skin colour, which can indicate that the levels are incorrect and are putting the apple under stress. Oxygen levels are set at an optimum level found for the apple to store longer. This is different than normal storage where a standard regime is used that is not bespoke to the fruit in store.”
Tesco’s Master of Apples John Worth, commented, “As the English season doesn’t start until August the Holy Grail for growers has been to come up with a variety that holds its freshness and taste whilst it is put into cold storage during the winter months. Our grower has gone beyond that and found a new variety that actually improves in taste whilst it is dormant.
“Red Prince has a tangy, sweet taste and is large and firm. Somewhat like a fine wine, while it sleeps, its flavour and texture are enhanced as the natural sugars and acids mature to elevate the eating experience of this premium apple.”
The EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, has welcomed the announcement on the improved access to the Indian market for EU apple exports.
He said, “Improved access to the Indian market represents another positive step in finding alternative markets for EU producers, in light of the ongoing difficult market situation. Our efforts to break down any barriers to our agricultural exports and to open markets to our producers are ongoing, as part of the diplomatic offensive we are leading in 2016.”
While all access points were closed to apples imports since September 2015 with the exception of one port, as of the week ending 22 January, European producers can now get their apples into the Indian market through major sea ports and airports while the importation of apples is also allowed through India’s land borders.
The EU says that the Indian market has huge potential. While EU exports of apples to India amounted to only around 7,000 tonnes in 2014, provisional figures for 2015 show an increase to around 11,000 tonnes and India has the potential to absorb a higher share of EU exports given its moderate domestic apple production of around 1.5 million tonnes.