Oakley Farms has overcome weather challenges to produce a crop of 11,000 fruit
Tesco has forecast a record-breaking crop of UK-grown watermelons.
The supermarket said around 11,000 UK-grown watermelons – the largest yield ever produced in Britain - has exclusively started hitting its shelves.
The fruit was produced by the UK’s biggest watermelon grower, Oakley Farms based in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, with the guidance of melon-growing expert James Cackett.
Cackett, who works as a fruit technical manager for Tesco, has spent the last 15 years working with both seed houses and British growers on developing varieties that are right for the UK climate and soil.
He said: “This is a massive achievement by Oakley Farms as their previous production record was around 5,500 watermelons a few years ago, so to double that inside two years is fantastic work.
“Growing watermelons in Britain is still a small and developing industry with just a handful of producers scattered around the UK. When we first started selling them, in very small quantity, about 10 years ago shoppers were curious whether such an exotic-looking fruit could ever be grown over here.
“But they are now very popular with shoppers wanting to support British growers and each year demand gets stronger, so it doesn’t take long for the entire crop to sell out.”
Oakley Farms and Tesco have worked together on watermelon production for seven years and while the rainy July has slowed production, learnings from previous years still made this a record-breaking year in terms of volume.
The farm is the UK’s biggest producer of pumpkins and also grows courgettes, which are both members of the curcubit family, the same as watermelons.
Oakley Farms manager Nick Molesworth said: “We started growing them after Tesco approached us and offered to work with us on the project and it made good sense as the crop would fit in perfectly between production of courgettes in late spring and pumpkins in early autumn.
“We have tried several different methods of growing the watermelons and are now getting more fruit per plant so the hard work is starting to pay off.
“They are not that easy to grow and the British climate can also be challenging but we’re very pleased with this year’s crop. Growing watermelons is a natural evolution for our business.”
The watermelons are selling for £3.49 each for the standard size, and £2.50 for the mini size.