English Apples & Pears flags up big opportuntities for growers

Top fruit growers could bump up yields by almost a third, but must not squander the chance to profit from rising demand and tough government targets for production.

Adrian Barlow, chief executive of English Apples & Pears, said the upsurge in consumer demand and Government calls for UK horticultural production to rise by 20% to 25%  threw up "enormous opportunities".

He told an East Malling Research (EMR) conference last week that the industry had to pinpoint what was hampering production. Growers must look at profitability, consumer wants - "hard and crunchy verses juicy melt-in-the-mouth pears" - economical pest and disease control, management and production costs, especially labour.

"But we have an opportunity to increase sales in various regions across the UK," he told the Pear Growing for the Future conference. "I suspect London and the South East is quite strong and the north and Midlands relatively weak by comparison.

"The UK holds fewer than 20% of UK sales. We can't recover the other 80%t because of southern hemisphere imports. But if we could supply for eight months a year we could more than double - and approach a tripling - of our existing output.

"There's an enormous opportunity and we don't have to worry about expanding the market - that can happen later. But we could achieve a larger share of the total market. There's a huge opportunity to increase consumption, market share and profitability."

The UK market for pears last season was 160,000 tonnes, most of them fresh, with 30,000 tonnes used for juices and processing. Conference pears amounted to nearly half of all sales.

Farm Advisory Service Team managing director Tim Biddlecombe said more than 80% of the country's orchards were over 20 years old - the soil was worn out and lacked irrigation. But he added that careful growth control could improve productivity.

"If you irrigate, improve nutrients, add compost, improve soil structure and get the pruning right you can increase yields by 25% to 30% and improve the shape and size of fruit. Good growth control is a pointer for improving soils for English pears," said Biddlecombe.

EMR chairman Oliver Doubleday, pointed out that pear growing suffered from "lack of precocity, slightly disappointing yields and quality issues". He added that there was no point producing fruit "if you can't sell it to its maximum advantage".

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