The frost "has hit volumes by some 20%", it says, adding that concerns about future labour availability at crop-picking time are at the top of its lobbying agenda.
The most recent survey by the Association of Labour Providers, covering July, found nearly half of labour providers reporting labour supply down compared to the same time in 2016, while more than 40% said their client businesses have had to increase wage rates to attract workers, and two-thirds have had to invest more money and resources into sourcing workers.
"All British apples are picked by hand, which means that the harvest is highly labour-intensive," says EAP chief executive Steven Munday. "We’re working hard with the NFU and other bodies to lobby for access to the required seasonal labour after Brexit."
But EAP has also revealed new research it had commissioned showing that nine out of 10 shoppers who expressed a preference (89%) said they would be choosing British apples wherever they are on sale.
"This is a huge vote of confidence for British growers," says Munday. "As Brexit beckons, it appears shoppers here are actively supporting British produce and, in particular, that they are looking for British apples in the shops."
With warnings that future supplies of imported fresh produce may be hit in the wake of the UK’s decision to quit the EU, Munday adds: "There is little doubt that we are at a tipping point and there is a huge opportunity for British growers both this year and for many years to come." To bolster this demand, UK growers will launch the first Great British Apples marketing campaign next month, culminating in the first Great British Apples Day on 19 October, a pop-up apple store in central London and an in-store campaign with major retailers.
Stressing that the campaign will reinforce the message of fruit quality as well as provenance, Munday adds: "We’re working with the major retailers to support the country’s apple growers by using our new logo on-pack and at point of sale. In our survey, better display and identification of apples as British in the shops were also key concerns for consumers, who said they would buy more apples if they could easily see that they come from Britain."
A representative at Kent top-fruit grower Adrian Scripps says: "Fruit picking is now in full swing on all of our Kent farms. The harvest season is very early this year and approximately two weeks ahead of last year."
Workers began picking Bramley apples and Conference pears last week (early September), with fruit size and quality reportedly excellent. "The warm days and cold nights have enhanced the stunning red colour of the Gala apples," with picking of these beginning this week (mid September).
Managing director James Simpson tells Horticulture Week: "We were not too badly hit by the frosts due to an investment over the years in farms in a range of locations to spread the risk. Our farms in north and west Kent have good crops with low levels of frost damage or crop loss. Our farms in east Kent have sustained the worst damage where we may have lost up to 30-40% of the crop in some orchards. Most of the UK suffered three frosts that in different regions and with different varieties affected most growers to some extent. Cox appears to be the worst affected, with other varieties coming through almost untouched."
On cider apple production, a representative of the National Association of Cider Makers says: "The cider apple crop is looking good again this year. Excellent quality, although perhaps not quite as large as last year, but that was an exceptional harvest. This is obviously good news, once again, for cider production."
Neither frost nor labour availability have proved to be issues for the sector. "Cider apples crop much later than dessert and culinary apples and so are less likely to be impacted by late frosts — and harvesting of cider apples is a very different process to the way that culinary and dessert apples are picked, so there is far less requirement for labour, and therefore the industry is not affected by the labour issues that the culinary and dessert fruit industry is currently experiencing."