Horticulture Week Business Award - Top-Fruit Grower of the Year

Winner - AR Neaves & Sons

Image: AR Neaves & Sons
Image: AR Neaves & Sons

AR Neaves & Sons has met the challenges of growing British cherries head on and developed the business to ensure a consistent supply of top-quality produce throughout the season while nurturing and maintaining its staff.

Over the past 18 months, it has brought in cutting-edge technology, introduced new varieties to extend the relatively short British cherry season and focused on staff welfare with new accommodation and facilities. The company respects its environment and location, and ensures that it uses all available resources to their optimum.

Throughout the past decade, AR Neaves & Sons has embarked on a rolling project introducing Gisselle rootstock and tunnels to protect its cherry crops from the elements and ensure consistent supply to supermarket customers.

As part of this project, the farm has also introduced timed, precision ­irrigation, ensuring that orchards receive the optimum volume of water. Over the past two seasons, the water used per kilo of fruit has been reduced by 57%.

The business has also installed an optical grader in the packhouse over the past 18 months to improve efficiencies and maintain high quality. Every cherry is photographed multiple times during its journey though the grader, ensuring that any defects on the skin or with the size are readily identified. The grader has tripled the speed of packing — working at its maximum speed, the line can pack 60-80 punnets an hour.

AR Neaves & Sons continues to push the boundaries of an extended British cherry season, harvesting a mix of varieties — including trusted types such as Merchant and Kordia as well as Sequoia as an early variety. In 2017, its first pick was the earliest ever — by some 10 days, taking place on 2 June — thanks to the farm using varieties that suit its brick earth soil and high light levels.

Over the past two seasons, production at the site has more than doubled to a total of 368 tonnes in 2017. Even with this dramatic increase in production, the business has maintained supply and quality, and been recognised by its customers for its ongoing work.

AR Neaves & Sons has a high percentage of seasonal staff who return annually, reflecting the investment made in training and integration into the business. Staff accommodation has been rejuvenated over the past year with the introduction of dormitory-style lodging as well as a communal social area and gym.

Highly commended

  • Boxford (Suffolk) Farms

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