Diversification into juice production and cherry growing has helped one small independent Kent fruit grower turn around its fortunes, a British Independent Fruit Growers Association farm walk has heard.
Colin Corfield of Owl House Fruit Farm near Lamberhurst told nearly 100 fellow growers that the decline in the value of his produce between 1990 and 2000 had forced his hand.
"The value of my fruit plummeting from 45p to 22p per pound selling to multiple retail customers - even growing the varieties then considered what the market required - shouted for me to change or go under," he said.
The farm, which is more than 100m above sea level, grubbed out 50 per cent of orchards, mainly Cox on MM106 rootstock, while retaining those on M9. "We decided to diversify into fresh juice making and planting cherries as potential revenue generators, and invested accordingly," he added.
Aided by expert juice makers Alan and Carol Edwards, Corfield kept outlay low by assembling a part home-made, part second-hand bin-tipping, washing and sorting line to deliver fruit into a Voran mill and press.
"We have long since come to recognise that good-quality fruit makes good-quality juice. Having treated the raw juice to inhibit oxidation, we allow it to settle overnight, then flash-pasteurise at 85 degsC, bottle, cap and label," he said.
The Owlet range of juices has since won regular accolades at the National Fruit Show and elsewhere.
The farm produces around 500,000 litres a year including blends such as Cox/Bramley and apple/elderflower, sold primarily to local outlets and wholesalers. It also processes fruit for 300-400 clients a year. Corfield is now experimenting with carbonated juices.
Planting New types
To sustain production, Colin Corfield has planted a new orchard including new dessert varieties Cheerful Gold and Red Windsor as well as dual-purpose varieties such as Jonagold and Bramley, also capable of generating high juice volumes.