“Winter work? Surely there is nothing to do now it’s winter” How that makes our farm manager Clive laugh !
One of the foremost things on our minds is tree planting. Orchards are being continually renewed, driven by age, unprofitability and the never ending desire of consumers for the new. It is a necessary and huge commitment in every way not just financial. Other tasks at this time of the year include pruning, machinery maintenance, coppicing, logging, ditching, hedge cutting and planning labour for next season. On wet days catching up on research findings and never ending paperwork deserves a blog on its own !
So here we are in late February waiting for good planting conditions. This is vital as we try to minimise damage to the soil, which is one of our most precious assets, and maximise the speedy establishment of the bare rooted trees. These are waiting quietly in the cold store. 5000 Jazz arrived at the farm from France mid January – with a price tag illustrating our weak pound. They need regular attention as their roots must not dry out nor must they freeze. This is an interesting little challenge which we have solved by standing them in bins with regularly dampened straw.
What else is on our shopping list? Bamboo canes from China, rubber ties, irrigation piping,tree guards from Hungary to prevent rabbits which can kill a tree just by eating the apparently irresistible bark all the way round. A night on the town in the orchards for the dear little bunnies can kill dozens of trees so we must always put a guard on which is sufficiently high to stop tall rabbits. I swear they stand on each other’s shoulders…
Wooden stakes from Belgium, wire, clips…. This is a modern intensive “hedge style” of planting, where we are providing the support needs of the tree to enable the tree to put all its energy into fruit production. This system increases yields and yield is crucial in the tough battle to make our UK fruit competitively priced.
What do we need from the great British Public in these straightened times? Do we all care about both preserving orchards as part of our diverse landscapes and supporting UK fruit growers? We are at a disadvantage compared to European growers in many ways. Their light levels are better which increases yield and colours the fruit better. We pay UK Living wage rates but can’t add the increases on to our consumers as the price war of the supermarkets continues and Government wants cheap food. Labour costs are 55% of our growing costs and now the Pound is weak. And fruit consumption appears to be falling.
Is A still for Apple or is it for Avocado? Apple and Pears used to be central in many peoples diets, augmented by the occasional oranges and bananas and heaven forbid, grapes at certain times of the year. The choice all the year round now is huge: melons of all sorts, peaches, nectarines, pineapples, even papayas, mangos, kiwis, lychees. Berries are the new favourite. Of course there is a demand for apples and pears and our challenge is to win with new varieties and to steal back the sales of imported fruit which have tempted the supermarket buyers with bigger profit margins.
Keep demanding British Apples and Pears and keep aiming to eat your five a day – in fact latest research says 10 a day! Visit Bentley’s Castle Fruit Farm.