Harvest 2019 is well under way and the race is on to pick our apples and pears and to get them into cold storage ‘fridges’ as quickly as possible. This will ensure there’s a fresh and tasty supply of handpicked, quality British apples and pears in supermarkets for the next 11 months, helping to reduce food miles and also the UK’s reliance on imported fruit.
The 2018 supply season has only just ended and we successfully supplied supermarkets with over 350 million British apples and over 50 million British pears. This year for the first time we supplied British Royal Gala apples for 48 weeks of the year and every year we supply British Bramley apples all year round.
So how do we achieve this?
Modern commercial orchards have visually changed a lot over the last 10-20 years and the way we grow fruit means we now plant more trees per acre than ever before. Growing more trees and more fruit per tree on less land is important especially here in the South East, where land is expensive and in demand for many other uses.
Our new orchards and the infrastructure to support them are a big investment. We continually reinvest our profits back into our business, to keep it growing, creating more jobs and a much wider economic benefit to Medway and Kent, with an annual GVA of over £29m which is expected to rise to over £85m by 2025.
Commercial fruit trees have a productive lifespan of 20 years and we’ve now planted over two million in the last several years and we’re continuing our new orchard planting this year and beyond. We have also planted an estimated 100 miles of native hedging in and around our 25 farms. This provides wildlife habitats for passing birds and beneficial insects, as well as important shelter for our trees from the weather.
Weather patterns are certainly changing and there are more weather extremes that farmers have to deal with. There is nothing we can do about the weather, but we can plan where we grow our fruit and our orchards’ structure to help them to cope with whatever Mother Nature brings.
Our new orchards are designed to maximise the amount of light and air which the fruit has around it and they are managed so that the tree puts its energy into growing the fruit, rather than lots of branches.
As well as a battle against the weather, we also have to battle against the risk of attack from pests or disease. Much of the risk however actually comes from our damp English climate. We watch the weather closely so that we know when our trees might be most at risk from the combination of dampness and air temperature.
Growing a delicious British apple or pear takes a lot of time, care and attention to detail, something which we strive to perfect. Our team work hard throughout the year to make sure that when we reach the autumn and our harvest crews arrive, they can work quickly and efficiently from tree to tree.
All of our apples are hand-picked and carefully placed into fruit bins which are then put into our cold storage facilities as quickly as possible. When we’ve removed the field heat our fruit effectively ‘goes to sleep’. We can then monitor temperature and look for any changes daily. Then, throughout the year, when it is needed, the fruit is taken to our pre-grading and packing facilities at Flanders Farm Hoo and then dispatched to supermarkets across the UK.
So, if you pick up one of our apples or pears this year, remember the amazing journey it’s been on.