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

Winner - Mansfields

Mansfields was established 50 years ago when the current owner’s father purchased an 8ha smallholding in Kent. The business now covers more than 1,000ha across 20 farms in Kent, growing a range of top fruit, strawberries, plums, apricots and cherries.

The cherry division now produces up to 2,000 tonnes and is expected to reach 2,500 tonnes in the next few years. The increased production is a result of an extensive planting programme — more than 100ha of orchards in 10 years — supported by investment in tunnels and customised, sustainable husbandry.

The farm has halved the number of varieties grown to focus on the quality customers expect while delivering optimum flavour. The varieties grown are a balance of early- and late-season, with the benefit of staggering production to meet customer demand and reducing waste.

With 20 farms spread across Kent, Mansfields can select the optimum location for each variety. Bespoke tunnel systems maximise light levels, helping to extend the season from just a few weeks to eight weeks.

Sustainable farming practices include ground-matting systems customised to the variety and location to ensure that trees are rooted in the best possible environment. Precision spraying in the orchards has reduced water usage by 40% in just
one year.

In the cherry market, "time is freshness". Mansfields’ hydro-cooling process chills entire pallets rather than individual trays, while an optical grader can sort seven tonnes of fruit an hour. These measures also ensure that waste is minimised.

In 2017, Mansfields built an interactive learning centre to deliver comprehensive training in a mocked-up live packhouse. This has increased staff retention and created a safer working environment.

Seasonal accommodation and social areas have been fully renovated and rejuvenated. The business also set itself the challenge of creating a year-round working community at the main accommodation site with labour provider ProForce to benefit staff of both businesses.

Looking after the environment to ensure a sustainable business is a priority for Mansfields. Renewable energy is used throughout the business, which works with local agencies and has a farm biodiversity plan for managing different habitats.

The company has demonstrated market leadership in the volume of cherries it grows while innovating production processes. That work has been underpinned by investment in staff welfare and acting as a responsible custodian of the environment.


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