It will come as no surprise that this season has been described as one of the most bizarre growing seasons for many years, by James Simpson Managing Director at apple grower Adrian Scripps.
“The coldest April for 60 years, with eight successive frosts and 14 nights of frost in total during the month. Followed by six weeks with no rain and then a very wet July and August with torrential storms,” explains James. “The net effect being a season where everything has wanted to grow, weeds, pests and disease included. The frosts have affected the overall fruit numbers on trees with some varieties, notably Cox and Bramley being particularly hard hit. Yields overall have been held back with few growers reporting full crops.”
The cold spring has put back the season by about a week to 10 days compared with last season. The colder weather in April and May reduced cell division and therefore fruit size. James is hoping warmer weather in the six weeks prior to harvest will help eating quality and flavour.
Disease has been the big issues this season according to James.
“The wet conditions just after flowering and then again through July and August have kept pressure on diseases such as scab and Nectria. This may affect the storage potential. Skin finish is generally a little better than expected, but still showing some russeting as a result of the frost and strong easterly winds.”
As the season is later, Adrian Scripps haven’t started selling just yet, but responses from customers seems to indicate strong demand for British apples.
“We have seen significant cost increases across the business, labour being the biggest. Wage costs are up by over 8% this season. Haulage, packaging and crop input costs have all increased. The net effect is we are seeing a double-digit percentage increase in our overall cost of production with some fruit.”
Adrian Scripps have always been ahead of the game with automation, and James says that the technology they have installed in the packhouse has given increased productivity, but labour challenges remain significant.
“Within the orchards we are increasing the number of harvesting platforms from seven last season to 21 this season, with the aim of semi-automating our harvesting. We believe this will increase productivity in the orchard and offset some of the labour shortages. We continue to trial a range of technology across the business, particularly for data collections. Using this tech we hope to reduce inputs and improve the targeting of resources, particularly in the growing side of the operation.”