Rainfall adds to cherry harvest damage

Recent downpours compound a tough season for growers already affected by late spring frosts.

Cherry growers not growing in tunnels face much reduced harvests as recent downpours add to what has already been a tough season.

Somerset grower Robert Fovargue said: "We had 120mm of rain at the weekend that did a huge amount of damage - any fruit that was at all ripe has been split. That's on top of the damage done to the blossom by rain and frost back in spring."

While he believes rain covers are "a waste of time" against the deluge, he said: "I would rather not grow under polythene because the taste is not as good. I am aiming for a late crop, giving the flavour the longest time to develop."

He added that some varieties have stood up to the conditions better than others. "Silvia has been amazing. Stella is still about 70 per cent intact and Sweetheart and Penny are okay. But Summer Sun and Sasha are devastated and Merchant has taken up far too much water and the fruits are revolting."

Kent grower David Knight of Pippins Farm tells a similar story. "It's been the most difficult year for cherries in a decade at least," he said.

"Our system for cherries is not as good as it should be but most cherry growers do not have tunnels and the rain gets to the trees one way or another. Plums are also likely to be short this year."

Crop fortunes - Protected orchard investment pays off

Berry Gardens, which sources mainly from protected orchards, has coped better, said managing director Nicholas Marston.

"For cherries grown in tunnels, fruit set was reduced by 10-15 per cent. That has been partly offset by bigger fruit size, but yield per hectare will still be down on last year."

Marston regarded this year's varying fortunes as a vindication of the company's decision to invest in covered production.

But he added: "UK cherry production will still double in the next three-to-four years, thanks to Giselle rootstock, drip irrigation and tunnels. The supermarkets and their customers are right behind it."

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