Top/Stone Fruit Grower of the Year - Winner: AC Goatham & Son

Two out of every nine British apples and one in three Conference pears sold in the UK are now grown and packed by Kent's AC Goatham & Son, following huge investment in land, infrastructure, grading and packing technology, cold storage, orchard planting and management.

Top/Stone Fruit Grower of the Year - Winner: AC Goatham & Son
Top/Stone Fruit Grower of the Year - Winner: AC Goatham & Son

With 20 farms covering more than 800ha as well as a further 20 partner farms, the company employs around 500 fulland part-time staff. This year it will grow 170 million apples, up from 150 million in 2015, and 50 million pears, up from 40 million. By 2020 it will have planted more than 1.5 million new fruit trees.

Construction work has just finished on a state-of-the-art £10m packhouse and 24 cold storage units, doubling capacity at its Flanders Farm headquarters in Hoo near Rochester. The facility features a 36-channel pre-grader to sort fruit by size and weight before it goes into cold storage, as well as five ripening rooms for Conference pears and a flow wrapping unit.

The company's direct supply model with a number of supermarkets, particularly Sainsbury's, ensures a close relationship that can adapt to the end consumer's needs, while its partnership with Medway Council helped AC Goatham & Son to gain planning consent for its new packhouse and cold store in just one year, rather than seven as previously.

This year sees the business itself celebrating its 70th year and senior partner Clive Goatham his 50th year in the industry. Clive has made it his mission to revive the fortunes of British Conference pears with what is thought to be the largest programme of pear planting in the UK for more than 40 years.

With a new double-trellis planting system, this is expected to give around 25 tonnes per hectare this year, rising to 65-70 tonnes per hectare at maturity. This compares favourably with the UK average of 17 tonnes per hectare.

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SEE ALL 2017 UK GROWER AWARDS WINNERS


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