Vines' benefits highlighted for apple growers

Grapes and apples are two crops that mix well, according to viticultural consultant and master of wine Stephen Skelton at the British Independent Fruit Growers Association technical day.

Speaking to delegates at the event in Wadhurst, East Sussex, last month, Skelton said similarities between the needs of both crops mean that investment in vines could be lucrative for top-fruit growers.

"Grapes and apples require similar sites and growing conditions," he said. "They both need pruning correctly, similar pest and disease control (programmes) and are a long-term commitment."

Skelton added that top-fruit growers who are considering branching out into viticulture will already have a head start because some of their existing machinery - such as mowers, sprayers and tractors - could also be used on vines. Growers will also already have an attention to detail, he said.

However, Skelton warned that, much like top-fruit growing, growers' returns are tenuously based on factors such as yields that are governed by the weather throughout the growing season, crop management, grape variety and rootstock and site quality.

But Skelton also pointed out that the UK wine industry is a growing market. "The UK area under vine has doubled since 2004. In 2013, there were around 1,600ha," he said.

"It's definitely here for the future. There's huge untapped potential for English wine. I think the next 30-40 years will be fascinating for English wine. We are going to make our sparkling wine a top-end product."

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