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Fred Searle

BY FRED SEARLE

Weather brings mixed season for Kent growers

Growers in 'Garden of England' have seen lower yields, inconsistent harvests and smaller fruit size due to lack of rain but itís not all bad news

Weather brings mixed season for Kent growers

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Fresh produce growers in Kent have reported a challenging and mixed year for their crops due to extreme weather conditions and inconsistencies in harvesting.

In soft fruit, the heat caused all the fruit to come at once and it had to be picked quickly to prevent it spoiling. However, cherries enjoyed strong yields throughout season, escaping late frosts at flowering and damage from fruit fly, according to Michael Bourne, the director of New Park Farm.

Strawberries had moderate yields of good quality fruit, Bourne said, with high temperatures denting yields but helping to maintain quality under plastic. 

“It’s been a good harvest for raspberries with low disease pressure,” he added. “Bush fruit and plums have flowered well and the hot weather gave an early and good harvest.”

In topfruit, Worldwide Fruit reported a larger volume than last year's reduced crop, with high sugars and good flavour. Meanwhile, Max Fane of Chegworth Valley enjoyed a "very abundant" crop, and although fruit size was smaller than usual due to a lack of rain, quality was high.

Inconsistent harvests in various crops have been one of the biggest challenges for growers this year, with fruit ready for picking all at once rather than a steady flow, and this has made retail supply challenging.

Owlets Fruit Juice owner Sue Corfield added that finding reliable harvest workers has been “a struggle”.

In vegetable, Provenance Potatoes has seen its crop progress well thanks to “excellent soil conditions” and “general good weather” but crops are smaller in size and quality is variable. “We are seeing sprouting and secondary growth, all down to the heat this summer,” said director Tracy Bush.

She added that although total potato yields are down by around 20 per cent, the South East has enjoyed good yields thanks to its access to irrigation.

“This is a major long-term concern for us in the UK and we have certainly seen the effects that a lack of water has had," Bush said. "The lower yields mean prices are considerably higher than last year and I think this will continue right through the storage season.” 

Bourne reported high yields in asparagus thanks to consistently high temperatures through May and June, and there has been “very good growth” on gourds such as pumpkins and courgettes.

Paul Vesey-Wells of Walmestone Growers also enjoyed good yields of courgettes, squash and cucumbers, but he highlighted the difficulties and expense related to irrigation.

“The very cold start to spring meant we had very high heating costs for the greenhouse and many outdoor crops were planted late,” he said. "Also the remainder of 2017's crops were ruined. 

“The very dry May, June and July meant that there were multiple failed plantings, and the crops that were successful had much higher labour costs due to the time it took to irrigate.

“When the rain did finally come in August, as a low input farm, we had an unprecedented weed problem, resulting in lower yields.”

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