Boost yields to cut rising costs

The improvement in growers' returns has fallen well behind their rapidly rising costs - with only a marginal increase in strawberry prices seen this season.

This was the claim of Berry Gardens managing director Nicholas Marston at Fruit Focus last week.

Speaking at a press briefing at the event, he said the most effective way for growers to counter this trend is for them to boost yields and berry size, thus reducing their production and picking costs per kilo of fruit.

He added that Berry Gardens' (and KG Growers') 75 members are doing just this - an achievement that can be largely contributed to its successful research and development programme, along with its ongoing significant swing towards everbearer varieties and its improved growing techniques - like tabletops and high beds.

He said: "Our best everbearer Camarillo produces very good yields with large fruit size, which means low picking costs ... and the next generation of everbearers, which will come into cropping in 2010, will improve on Camarillo."

Kent grower and KG Growers vice-chairman Alistair Brooks added that growers must get wiser to protect their margins.

Wages, their biggest cost, have risen 12.5 per cent since last season - while deflation of the pound against the euro has increased the cost of plants from Europe (where most are sourced) by 20 per cent.

But, he said, the good news is that "we're seeing yield increases across KG Growers".

The cost of picking a poor crop can be around 80p/kg - more than double that of picking a good crop - hence the importance of developing higher-yielding varieties with better fruit size and introducing tabletops and picking rigs that also help to reduce picking costs.

Marston added: "The berry industry has been hugely successful. In 1995 the UK supplied only 60 per cent of its soft fruit consumption; now it's about 90 per cent."

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