Specialist Fruit Grower of the Year - Winner GuardTop for TickleBerries aronia berry enterprise

With the launch of two agricultural businesses in the 1980s and 1990s under his belt, in 2011 Andrew Tickle turned his attention to developing the land at Johnsons Farm that had been permanent pasture for more than two decades.

Specialist Fruit Grower of the Year - Winner GuardTop for TickleBerries aronia berry enterprise
Specialist Fruit Grower of the Year - Winner GuardTop for TickleBerries aronia berry enterprise

He sought a niche crop that could flourish in poor soils. Situated on the very top of the North Downs in Kent, the grade 3 soils on the farm are very heavy with lots of flint over chalk so a hardy, woody plant with good roots was required.

His research led him to a Nuffield Scholarship paper, Minor crops: an alternative for the UK fruit industry, which briefly mentioned aronia berries as a product that "could trade as a commodity very quickly".

Having decided that the aronia berry was the niche crop to grow, Andrew's researches found there were no other plantations in England and more than 90 per cent of the general public were unaware of the existence of the fruit - despite its widespread cultivation in Eastern Europe and North America.

The first plantation was established in 2012 with the first crop produced in 2013. Some 1,500 bottles of aronia juice, which can be added to a wide variety of drinks from champagne and cocktails to apple juice and cider, were produced and sold in 2014, with confident forecasts of 6,000 bottles in 2015.

Most sales have originated from the website - www.aroniaberries.co.uk - with a very good response from the health and well-being sector.

The challenge now is to identify which other sectors will provide the best sales potential. Following assessment, in October confirmation of full SALSA (Safe & Local Supplier Approval) came for the production of aronia berry juice.

Finalists

AJ & CI Snell for organic blackcurrants

Mack for first commercial volume of UK Rainier cherries.


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