The head of a major French fruit supplier to the UK market has said he expects to take a hit on exports of some varieties post-Brexit, while spotted-wing drosophila is driving many French growers out of cherry production.
At the headquarters of Les Vergers d'Anjou, a co-operative of around 100 fruit growers, director general Jacques Malagie told Horticulture Week: "There are unknowns. Already the pound is weaker. There is a belief that Britain will grow more after it leaves the EU, which would make it harder to sell varieties like Braeburn and Gala, though less so Pink Lady, Golden Delicious or Granny Smith. But we have many other markets."
The co-operative sells internationally via the Blue Whale group, France's largest fruit exporter, with this accounting for 70 per cent of all its produce. Its vast grading and packing line near Angers can handle 200 tonnes of fruit a day, with 12 packing lines tailored to customers' diverse needs.
In all it handles some 35,000 tonnes of apples each year, as well as pears, black and red currants, plums and cherries. But the last of these is in jeopardy because of the spotted-wing drosophila.
Decrease in cherry growers
"We have already gone from 22 cherry growers to 10, and from 200 tonnes to less than 50," he says. "The French government has stopped authorisation of the only effective control, so when you get it, that's the end. Growers are not keen to continue and I am not optimistic for the future of this crop in this area. It is a major problem in southern France too.
"Customers want agriculture with less treatment, less environmental impact, and regulations don't deliver any new phytosanitary licences but withdraw licences for many products. We are all looking at better management without chemical control, such as mating disruption and protection against rain. We will see the re-emergence of old pests and diseases that will cause many problems, not just for organic growers."
The co-operative is one of Europe's largest suppliers of Pink Lady, accounting for one-third of its apples, and "has good returns for growers".
Pear production, meanwhile, is dominated by the locally bred club variety Angelys. "In the UK M&S tried it but didn't continue, but this season the group will send 10 shipping containers to the USA and we will double production in the next 10 years," says Malagie.
"I think it will find a market because of its qualities. Its long shelf life allows us to deliver it from December through to summer without problems. We will offer it ready-to-eat, though it's hard to tell if it's ripe just by looking."
This season has been a disappointing one for top fruit, thanks to a poor spring in the Loire Valley, he explains. "This year the grading line will run just to April, rather than June as normal."
The grading line will shortly be upgraded to MAF Roda's GlobalScan 6, which uses multiple cameras to detect fruit size, colour and external quality, as part of a EUR2m-plus investment. "It's a big investment but there is EU and regional funding for this. It will be more efficient, require less staff and take up less space," he points out.
This season a flow-wrapping packer was introduced by the group specifically to cater for the UK market. "But this will be used for other markets. The presentation is very good and you can put on more information," says Malagie.