Soft Fruit Grower of the Year winner Wallings Nursery is set to be the first glasshouse grower to bring Elegance strawberries to the shops this year.
The variety was bred by East Malling Research (EMR) and is one of a group of new strawberry cultivars to be added to the list approved by supermarkets, including Wallings' customer Sainsbury's, last year. It has a traditional strawberry flavour combined with a good yield resulting in reduced inputs.
At an event held at the Essex-based business last month to celebrate the start of the 2011 season, nursery manager Christopher Batchelor told Grower that five per cent of his 3ha glasshouse crop has been devoted to the new variety.
Varieties need to be trialled on this kind of large scale as it is the only way to tell if they are commercially viable, he said. "We are buying more to plant in August," he added.
The grower's try out of Elegance follows the investment a couple of years ago in the variety Sasha. The EMR-bred variety proved to be a disappointment as it is difficult to pick because the fruit has a tendency to split. However, it still takes up 5 per cent of his glasshouse space.
Batchelor said: "In trial situations we did not see any of these issues so to maintain these varieties in the future a bit of money needs to be spent on research to find out exactly how to grow them."
Last month's event was attended by members of Fresca group, which has a 40 per cent stake in the business. Chairman Chris Mack joined in the official opening of a new office building.
Batchelor said: "We started picking on 15 April and are picking every other day at the moment." The nursery produces around 10 per cent of the UK's glasshouse strawberry crop every year.
The company has installed a thermal screen in its glasshouse. This was funded by a EU grant via its producer organisation, Plantsman and will save money in the winter.
It is also trialling new aphid mix packs as part of its IPM programme. Supplied by Koppert and BCP Certis, they contain six different aphid predators because, said Batchelor, "half the problem is knowing which you have".
BERRY VARIETIES MAINSTAY SONATA WINS AGAINST CROP CRITERIA
Sonata is Wallings' main strawberry variety as, said Batchelor, "we can leave it on the plant for several days."
"It has perfect berries, good sugar levels, good yields and it suits the supermarkets.
We plant them in August and get a crop from September until Christmas. It overwinters and then you get this magnificent crop which lasts for eight weeks into the first few weeks of June."
"Our main production is under glass. We then dovetail in with production from our tunnel plants as it is coming to an end."
Batchelor uses peat and coir grow bags. "While there's not a huge opposition to peat I will continue down that road."