English top-fruit growers' continuous investment in new varieties and growing methods was demonstrated at the British Independent Fruit Growers' Association's annual spring farm walk earlier this month.
Father and son Mike and George Chambers of GH Chambers hosted the event at their Northiam Farm orchards in Horsmonden, Kent, on 13 May.
Founded by George's grandfather in 1929, the family business is now part of the Mid Kent Growers (MKG) co-operative and, like many large English top-fruit growers who want to ensure a continuous supply throughout the season, grows a range of early and late varieties, George Chambers explained to the 90-strong tour group.
"The season starts of with Discovery, then Worcester, then Bramley. These are then followed by Cox, Gala and Rubens" he said, adding that 3ha of the Red Windsor cultivar - 2ha of which were planted during 2013-14 and 1ha that was put in earlier this year - are the newest additions to the 50ha fruit farm. "We needed an early red apple to replace the old Cox trees that we have taken out," he said.
The business has this spring begun retrofitting wooden posts supported by a top wire to its Rubens orchard, enabling the trees to grow some 75cm to 1m taller to boost yields, George Chambers explained.
The farm also grows small amounts of pears and is home to 15 cold stores, nine of which are controlled-atmosphere stores. "The other six cold stores can go down to below freezing if required," he said.
He added that Tonbridge-based International Controlled Atmosphere put all of the frames and structures up and fitted the controlled-atmosphere aspect of the cold stores. The farm is also home to a modern packhouse that grades other MKG members' fruit. The firm supplies Tesco, Asda, Co-op and the wholesale market via Norman Collett.
Co-operative group head two
Mid Kent Growers is a co-operative of 18 growers and 38 farms that has a combined growing area of more than 190ha. It grows apples, pears, cherries and plums - Cox is its primary apple variety.
The group also grows large quantities of Gala and Bramley and smaller yet substantial amounts of many newer varieties, including increasingly popular red dessert apples such as Rubens, Cameo, Fuji and Katy.