Most top fruit survives poor weather to get good crops

Most top fruit varieties look set to produce good crops despite about six weeks of bad spring weather.

But a few were badly hit during flowering and fruitlet stages by the early April frosts and the subsequent wet, cold conditions - knocking countless thousands of pounds off their potential value.

Apples have suffered the least, with most varieties - apart from Cox - predicted to produce more or less full crops of quality fruit. Worst hit were plums, although cherries and pears were also hit quite badly.

UAP's south-east specialist fruit adviser Colin Bird said: "Cox has a 75 to 80 per cent crop but it tends to be patchy within and between orchards."

He said although there is more or less a full Gala crop, very little thinning will be needed where there is no frost damage or scab. But scab is severe in some orchards.

Braeburn yields will be down due to lack of return bloom, Bird predicted. This was almost certainly caused by poor light last autumn.

Most Bramley orchards are carrying a full crop yield-wise but not in fruit numbers. Good fruit size will compensate for fruit numbers being some 20 per cent down, said Bird.

In contrast, most pear orchards are cropping at only 50 to 75 per cent of their potential, although there are a few very good ones. In those with light crops fruit size is good and generally skin finish is better than expected.

But Bird has seen some cracking and severe russet in many orchards. "It's a struggle to find a decent plum crop in the South East. Overall it's about a 10 per cent crop.

"Cherries aren't as good as we've seen in recent years. Some varieties have run off quite badly, particularly first earlies like Merchant and Merpet, but the later ones like Penny are pretty good."

Bird's views were mirrored by the situation on Oliver Doubleday's GH Dean & Co farm near Faversham, Kent. His 81ha of pears had a disappointing crop - less than half of last year's. His 12ha of cherries carried only a light crop, down on that of the past few years.

However, his 12ha of Braeburn and 18ha of Gala had full crops that will require light thinning to ensure good fruit size.

"Our pears are very thin," Doubleday said. "Although hit by frost the fruitlets didn't have the black hearts associated with frost damage. Skin finish is not great but we have sprayed the crop with various 'gibs' to improve it. Fruit size should be good and the crop won't need thinning - that's the silver lining."

Hereford grower Bob Simpson's take on the West Midlands' situation was that plums are virtually non-existent, cherries only survive in polytunnels and the apple crop has suffered mixed fortunes.

"There are lots of Gala, which seems to be more resistant (than others) to bad weather during flowering," he said. "The trouble is that with the new wage regulations it will be so expensive to thin them."

Simpson grows 2.8ha of Cox, 4.6ha of Egremont Russet, 5.3ha of Tentation, 5.5ha of Estivale and 2ha of Sunrise. He estimates the Cox is down 10 to 15 per cent on last year's very good crop, while the others have more or less full crops.

"Estivale looks good but we're having to spend a lot of money thinning it," Simpson said. "Tentation is well-balanced and we're thinning it, but only as a cleaning up job."


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