Cherry growing in the South West has the potential to provide a niche, premium product for local markets, according to Pearce Seeds agronomist Robert Fovargue.
Speaking to industry figures at Bridgwater College, Somerset, at a meeting organised by the Society of Chemical Industry's Professional Horticulture Group South West, he said technical advances have made cherries a viable crop once more for the region - although not at high volumes.
"Since the mid 1980s, when we were down to about 600ha, there have been three major changes," he said. "Gisella rootstock has taken over from the unreliable Colt. "Covering systems, originally developed in Norway, reduce the risk of rain damage. That means a high capital cost, but does give growers some prospect of a consistent crop, said Fovargue.
"Lastly, you have good new varieties, particularly late ones such as Skeena, Sweetheart and Penny that let you hit the latter end of the European season. Before that, the markets are inundated with cherries from Turkey in particular."
However, he added that the uncertainty of winter chilling in the South West made it unsuitable for high-volume growing for supermarkets.
"But we have slower maturing fruit that has an excellent flavour and can be sold on a small scale direct to the public," he said.
Industry view: sector goes from strength to strength
Pearce Seeds diversified into cider apple agronomy at a time when few other crops were making any money for farmers in the South West, Robert Fovargue explained. But the sector continues to go from strength to strength.
"The 'Magners effect' has given the whole industry an uplift and that's still there," he said. "The quality of ciders has also improved over the past 20 years, although many remain largely unknown."