Rich Bramley harvest could see oversupply and price drop

UK Bramley production seems almost certain to be significantly higher than Prognosfruit's July estimate of 81,000 tonnes, identical to the five-year average.

The main reasons for this are that the crop in the Weald of Kent, which has the biggest area of the variety, was much heavier than expected and there was a record crop in the West Midlands.

There is no overall agreement on the new total of some 90,000 tonnes, however. And a crop that size (or bigger) is not particularly good news because it means an oversupply of juicing fruit and therefore low prices. This situation has been worsened by the much-reduced uptake of fruit by Magners (particularly in Northern Ireland), a major player in the cider market.

The English crop is estimated at 57,500 tonnes, which means that Northern Ireland's contribution is some 32,500 tonnes, assuming the 90,000 figure is near the mark.

But Graham Cross, a Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture fruit adviser, puts the country's crop at 45,000 to 50,000 tonnes, a bit below last year. However, not all of that intended for juicing will be marketed for that purpose because prices are so poor, he said. Due to poor summer sales Magners wants only two-thirds of the 30,000 tonnes it usually sources in Northern Ireland.

English Apples & Pears chief executive Adrian Barlow reckons that the Northern Ireland figure is too high, though. A full Northern Ireland crop is around 40,000 tonnes, he insisted, and this year's is not that high.

Getting accurate Northern Ireland figures is very difficult, Barlow said. The country has not got a very good handle on its Bramley statistics. Although it is supposed to have some 500 growers, around 400 of them have only a few trees and that makes collecting statistics more difficult.

Magners' reduced juicing Bramley requirements mean Northern Ireland has 7,000 tonnes or more "with nowhere to go", according to Marden fruit merchant Peter Hill of A&P Hill Fruit in Kent. This has had a knock-on effect on the English market in that the price for juicing Bramleys has been poor - only £50 to £60 per tonne - although for dessert varieties it's a bit higher.

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