Tag Archives: Scotland

Scottish soft fruit growers say produce being wasted due to lack of pickers

Scottish soft fruit growers in Perthshire and Angus are seeing perfectly good produce left behind on bushes due to a shortage of pickers, just as demand peaks during one of the UK’s hottest summers in forty years.

As well as the unprecedented demand, the weather has lead to high yields of fruit which is ripening extremely quickly. These factors, when added to the ongoing labour crisis has created perfect storm which has seen fruit go to waste.

General Manager of Angus Soft Fruits, William Houston, told The Courierthat most producers were “just about” coping, but said that most fields weren’t getting a final pick over to clear up any last fruit.

“The other big issue is that the standard of workers from Eastern Europe isn’t as good as it used to be,” he added. “If we had the same standard as even two years ago they’d all be relishing the busyness, working their guts out picking huge volumes of fruit and everyone would be happy. But there is a huge difference between the best workers who can pick 20kgs an hour and the worst at only 8kg an hour.”

Peter Marshall Fruit at Alyth said it had left 15 tonnes of strawberries and five tonnes of raspberries to rot last week because of a combination of too few pickers and an unusually long period of sunshine which meant the fruit ripened quickly. “The fruit is ripening so fast, by the time the pickers get to the end of a drill they need to start all over again,” commented the firm’s Meg Marshall.

Photo Credit: Claudette Gallant / Public Domain Pictures

The post Scottish soft fruit growers say produce being wasted due to lack of pickers appeared first on Hort News on 18 July 2018.

Scottish soft fruit needs labour commitment

Scottish fruit grower James Porter has told Scotland’s Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing that the country’s successful soft fruit industry needs a seasonal workers scheme in place by this summer if crop is not to be wasted.

Mr Porter made the comments during a visit by Mr Ewing to co-operative Angus Growers based at Auchrennie near Carnoustie, where the MSP visited polytunnels used to grow strawberries and spoke to workers.

With the soft fruit industry estimated to be worth £134 million to Scotland’s economy, Mr Porter, who is also NFU Scotland’s soft fruit chairman, said, “We urgently need a seasonal workers scheme which will apply to people from out with the EU, because the weakness of the pound no longer makes working in the UK such an attractive option. He added that while his business currently has enough workers, he expects to be 15 per cent short by August, and that EU labour will not be enough to meet demand.

Mr Ewing said that the issue is down to Westminster and that he had pressed Environment Secretary Michael Gove on the issue: “After the second meeting [Gove] said the seasonal workers scheme would come forward soon, then advised ‘complete clarity’ by the end of March. The end of March has come and gone and now the end of April has gone. The UK Government could end this ongoing uncertainty by committing to remaining in the EU single market and customs union. Such a position would demonstrate to seasonal workers that Scotland, and the whole of the UK, remains an open and welcoming place to live and work.”

Photo Caption: Fergus Ewing visited cooperative Angus Growers

Photo Credit: Fergus Ewing

The post Scottish soft fruit needs labour commitment appeared first on Hort News. on 17 May 2018.

Lack of labour could kill Scottish fruit sector

A survey of Scottish farmers and growers has indicated that two-thirds of them may quit the industry if they are unable to access EU labour after Brexit, causing fears about the survival of the country’s horticulture sector.

The research, which was conducted by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) last summer, Research by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) showed there were 9,225 seasonal migrant workers in Scotland last year (which it described as a conservative estimate), with the majority involved in picking soft fruit, as well as the field veg and potato sectors.

The survey also suggested more than half of farmers would also consider diversifying their operations due to labour shortages. The survey’s authors said, ‘Brexit has undoubtedly affected the confidence of a proportion of workers and therefore their expectations about returning to Scotland in 2018. Approximately 40 per cent of the surveyed workers were certain they would be returning to Scotland in 2018, with 12 per cent unlikely to return due to having permanent jobs to go to in their home countries, or returning to studies, etc. 46 per cent were uncertain about whether they would return in 2018.’

Around a quarter of workers worked on more than one farm in the UK and there is also transition to other sectors particularly food processing and hospitality. On average, seasonal migrant workers were employed for just over four months per year, corresponding to the key soft fruit harvest period, but the seasonal pattern of crops in Scotland provided an opportunity for workers to work for extended periods.

Photo Credit: pxhere

The post Lack of labour could kill Scottish fruit sector appeared first on Hort News on 29 March 2018.

Scottish growers depend on migrants

A television documentary has helped the Scottish soft fruit industry highlight the importance of migrant labour.

The episode of the BBC documentary Landward visited Sylvia and James Clarke who grow 100 acres of fruit and vegetables in polytunnels at Wester Hardmuir near Nairn, as well as large fruit grower Ross Mitchell from Castleton Farm near Laurencekirk in Angus. The Clarkes employ some 20 students a year from countries including Poland, Lithuania and Slovakia, while Castleton Farm needs around 600 seasonal workers every year.

The programme followed a roundtable meeting in Edinburgh organised by the Migration Advisory Committee. Following the meeting, NFU Scotland horticulture committee chairman James Porter, who grows soft fruit as part of a mixed farming enterprise at East Scryne, said, “Access to workers remains a key priority, particularly for some very successful parts of our industry that are overwhelmingly dependent on non-UK harvest labour. For our soft fruit and vegetable sectors, there must be mechanisms put in place to allow access to those workers next year and ensure workers will be able to come to Scotland post-Brexit, in spring 2019.”

“This year, there has been a shortage of between 10 and 20% of seasonal workers coming from the EU – partly because of exchange rates, but also because of increasing affluence in other parts of the EU. This will get worse year on year.”

Photo Credit: PxHere

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Scottish farm debt hits record level

Scottish farmers owe more money to banks than at any time since records began in 1972, according to a report.

Outstanding loans to Scottish farms were more than £2.3 billion by the end of May, up £113 million (or 5%) on the previous period. Other finance, such as hire purchase agreements, family loans and other borrowing could account for a further £1.1 billion according to estimates.

Some commentators have questioned whether widely reported delays in farm payments by the Scottish Government have contributed to the figures, but Scotland’s Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing tried to put a positive spin on the figures: “It is vital that Scottish farmers can continue to access capital to invest in their businesses. These statistics show that banks are still lending to farmers, which is a sure sign of confidence in the sector,” he said.

“However, with many farmers relying on subsidies for a large part of their income, we must be wary of farmers getting into excessive and unmanageable debt.”

There is a similar pattern to agricultural borrowing in the rest of the UK, with figures from the Bank of England showing that in May 2017, the UK agricultural, field sports and forestry sector had an outstanding debt of £18.5 billion, up 57% since 2010.

The post Scottish farm debt hits record level appeared first on Hort News on 28 Sept 2017.

Blackberries could be latest UK berry craze

Blackberry sales are currently growing at around 20 per cent per year and British growers are hoping to capitalise on the growing demand.

“Market growth is being driven by the same shoppers buying blackberries more frequently,” John Gray, Commercial Director at Angus Soft Fruits recently told the US press. “There is an element of consumers being happy with the product, which is positive. But it shows there’s still a lot more room to grow.”

According to the latest Kantar Worldpanel data, in the twelve months to 18 June there was an 18.7 per cent rise in annual retail sales to £37.4 million, although the figure grew to 29.3 at the start of the soft fruit season. Only 12.5 per cent of UK households bought blackberries in the past year, compared to 80 per cent buying strawberries and almost 50 per cent for raspberries and blueberries.

“With increased production, we think that sales of blackberries could double by the end of 2020,” says Berry Gardens’ category manager Colin Morley.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

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Late season cherries could be profitable

A report by 2016 Nuffield Scholar Jan Redpath of Angus Soft Fruits suggests that late season cherry production could provide a lucrative crop for Scottish growers prepared to invest in suitable production methods.

In Cherries: the late season opportunity, Mr Redpath argues that, ‘Late season cherries can be produced successfully and profitably in climates as demanding as Scotland’s.’ His conclusion comes after visiting growers in Chile, New Zealand, Australia, the USA, Canada and Norway, as well as closer to home in the UK and the Netherlands.

“Visits to Norway and Tasmania in particular showed that climatic adversity can be overcome with robust covering methods,” he explained. “Ongoing research in Europe and North America is likely to lead to better later varieties. I additionally noted that storage techniques exist that enable ‘not so late’ varieties of known potential to give a safe option to season extension.”

Mr Redpath added, “We should not be afraid to grow cherries under covering systems developed specifically for cherries – these have been proven in some demanding climates. New entrants to late cherry production must pay great attention to the pruning requirements, especially during tree formation. It’s vital to decide on a system prior to establishing the plantation, with an end in mind at that point. Lastly, we can grow great varieties that are known to work, and also store them well. This can be better than growing the very latest variety that may have other lesser characteristics and may not store so well.”

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

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Scottish scientists looking for native blueberry variety

Scientists at the James Hutton Institute (JHI) at Invergowrie near Dundee are working to develop varieties of blueberry which are tailored for UK growing conditions.

Sales of blueberries have soared in recent years, with consumption increasing by 24 per cent last year, but up to 90 per cent of the crop is still imported. It is hoped that the closely related blaeberry (also known as the bilberry) could hold the key to developing native varieties.

JHI researcher Dr Susan McCallum told reporters at the recent Fruit for the Future event: “Blaeberries are native to the UK and other places across Europe, and they’re part of the same family as blueberries, so we’re looking to develop the genetic background of both the blueberry and blaeberry to see if we can identify which genes help the blaeberry to thrive so well in the UK, to see if we can transfer that into a UK blueberry.

“We’re also looking at the genes which confer the colour through the pulp of the blueberry to see if we can understand that because that’s what gives the extra anthocyanins and the perceived health benefits of the fruit.”

Wild blueberries need little nutrient input and are tolerant of periods of drought, so it is hoped that new varieties could also reduce the environmental impact of fruit production. “[Blaeberries] thrive well because they have a great relationship with fungi. We’re looking to see if we can isolate the fungi that work so well on the blaeberry and inoculate the blueberry to see if we can help it establish much quicker,” Dr McCallum added.

Photo Caption: It is hoped the native blaeberry could help to develop UK-specific varieties of blueberry.

Photo Credit: Flickr

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Record sales for Scottish strawberries

According to press reports, ‘record quantities of Scottish strawberries are being sold this summer.’ The sentiment was backed by Michael Jarvis, head of marketing at Albert Bartlett and Scotty Brand, which last year sold nearly 4 million tonnes of the fruit, equivalent to 28 berries a minute.

Scotty Brand strawberries are grown in Perthshire by Bruce Farms. Mr Jarvis commented, “We work very closely with Bruce Farms to ensure our strawberries are tastier, fresher and keep better for longer. It’s fantastic to see customers continuing to opt for locally sourced Scottish produce, and its clear strawberries are the summer fruit of choice.”

Another major Scottish fruit grower, Angus Soft Fruits, has introduced four new AVA varieties of strawberry for this season, as well as two varieties of raspberry. Dave Griffiths, Angus Soft Fruits R&D Director & head breeder, said, “The new varieties are the result of several years of hard work by my team and we look forward to seeing these on retailer shelves this summer.”

Photo Credit: Pexels

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James Hutton Institute aims to increase blueberry yields

New plant breeding technology is being used by the James Hutton Institute to help blueberries thrive in the Scottish climate.

Part of a comprehensive package of research funded by the Scottish Government in environment and agriculture in 2015-2016, the project aims to produce blueberry plants that are more suited to the Scottish climate, helping to provide local options of this healthy fruit which may help manage type 2 diabetes.

Blueberry production in Scotland grew 10 per cent last year as demand continued to increase. Scottish Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said, “Blueberries are an increasingly popular fruit in the UK. Traditionally blueberries are imported to Scotland but this innovative research we are funding is using new technology to develop plants that are more suitable for the Scottish soil and climate as well as helping us to fully understand the health benefits of this fruit.

“Scottish blueberry production is already on the increase and this should help boost local production of this fruit – which is better for the environment and also good news for our economy.”

Dr Julie Graham, part of the James Hutton Institute’s Cell and Molecular Sciences and leader of the blueberry breeding programme commented, “Cutting-edge plant breeding technology is enabling the James Hutton Institute to develop new blueberry cultivars. These cultivars, better suited to Scottish conditions, should enable an increase in the home-grown blueberry crop, which will be of benefit to Scottish soft fruit growers. Long-term funding from the Scottish Government has been instrumental in supporting this research.”

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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