Growers' group expects rich apple harvest

Mid Kent Growers' apple harvests are "looking good" this season as the combination of warm days and cool nights has meant that fruit is already showing good colour, according to managing director Andy Sadler of the group's marketing firm, Norman Collett.

Sadler, speaking on behalf of Mid Kent's 23 grower members - whose farms account for some 686ha of dessert and culinary apples and pear crops - added that the rain has helped to increase the fruit's marketable size.

Mid Kent Growers' volume of Bramley, he said, is expected to be up on last year.

"There is still some way to go, but we are optimistic over Bramley. The industry expects a 10 per cent increase, which is good news in the variety's bicentennial year, as there should be increased consumer interest.

"However, there are some signs of scab that will be outgraded, which may reduce the final marketable fresh volume figure."

He added: "The initial judgement will come when picking for long-term storage - in the last week of the month - gets underway."

He said the outlook for dessert fruit, however, is likely to depend on the variety, with some varieties, such as Cox, expected to be lower in numbers than last season.

Sadler said: "Cox generally appears to be between 10 and 15 per cent down.

"It's a bit of a mixed bag as far as we can judge. There are some blind trees, but orchards vary. For example, there is russetting in some areas, while others show very clean fruit," he added.

"Overall I am confident that there will still be sufficient (numbers) to fulfil demand. Picking for storage is expected to start around 6 September, while volume should be on the market about 10 days later."

Gala, however, is expected to do well as more orchards are coming into bearing.

"Trees have been thinned to deal with scab and to help the development of fruit size and sugars. However, there is already a good colour on the fruit, and we are expecting strong sales."

Crop estimates are up for Braeburn - although Sadler said these are not as high as anticipated.

With picking due to start in early October, he warned growers against the danger of over-cropping young trees, which could have a detrimental effect next season.

A good crop of Egremont Russets is expected to be available, Sadler said, although to get an appreciable size growers may still have to thin.

An upsurge in Cameo is predicted, although planting has slowed. Skin finish looks particularly good and picking is expected about the first week of October, for marketing from early December through to April.

Similarly, late variety Rubens - which is the latest addition to Norman Collett's portfolio to be picked in late September - appears to look favourable.

This year the variety will become commercial for the first time - with approximately 600 bins becoming available.

The Italian-bred Elstar/Gala cross was trialled three years ago by Mid Kent Growers vice-chairman Nigel Bardsley - who brought home a tray of the variety from Italy after being impressed by the large red apples.

Sadler commented: "The limited amount last year was sent for trial with our retail customers and their consumers, and received very favourable comment."

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