Cider harvest recovers after dry summer to meet growing industry demand

Cider apple yields have exceeded initial expectations, despite poor pollinating conditions and a very dry early summer that threatened to reduce fruit numbers and size.

This is good news for cidermakers who - according to some pundits - will need all the apples they can get to meet the buoyant and expanding market for cider, which currently exceeds 120 million gallons a year.

Dr Jonathan Blackman, a Hutchinsons West Midlands fruit agronomist with a special interest in cider apple production, affirmed that the harvest had been "pretty good, with growers finding more apples than there appeared to be early on".

"It was a much easier season for scab control (than the previous two or three) because of the benign conditions for infection," he said. "A few growers had a problem with nut scale, but one pest that many had to deal with because of the dry, and sometimes hot, start to the summer was spider (and rust) mite. More growers had to spray against this pest than for some time."

Bulmers grower liaison manager Chris Fairs admitted that he was expecting scab to be a horrendous problem because many growers failed to control it adequately in 2009. But this season they were "right on the ball" and that was one reason why crops were virtually scab-free. "If fruit has a bit of scab it's not a problem for cider production, but if it's bad enough it reduces yields," he said.

"One worry for the future is Phytophthora (crown and collar rots)," predicted Fairs. "It's much worse than it used to be, possibly due to the changing weather pattern.

He added: "It's important to choose new orchard sites carefully and ensure that tree maintenance is good. You tend to get more wet feet trouble in orchards planted on long-term arable land than on land that's been in grass for a long time."

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