Skip to main content
Menu

Climate change   |   Farming

English apples arrive after ‘unbelievably tough’ year

The first English apples of the 2021 season are poised to arrive after “biblical rain”, an extraordinary number of frosts and other extreme weather have combined to make the toughest growing season on record for growers.

The season will begin next week with early variety Discovery as the first English apple available, but growers say they have faced an “unbelievably tough” growing year and in some cases have lost over half their crop.

Organic apple and pear grower Paul Ward said his apple crop is around 40 per cent of what it would be in a normal year, while pears will be even lower at around 10-15 per cent of what he would expect.

“We’re almost at the point where we need to be growing across twice as much ground to get what we need. It’s getting increasingly hard; over the last 12-15 years we’ve had at least four droughts,” said Ward, who farms in Kent, in the east of England. “Things are changing and they’re changing very quickly.”

Ward said the volume of rain brings the threat of fungal diseases, such as scab, which he tackles using organic methods and a spray made of potassium bicarbonate, and seaweed.

The weather has also led to high numbers of pests, but he said the most worrying thing was the increasingly visible changing climate. “Overall it’s very worrying. I’ve got grandchildren and it makes you think what kind of planet are they going to inherit?” he said.

English apples
A difficult season: English apples are facing climate impacts. 

Apple growers across the wider industry have faced other challenges such as the price of cardboard rising by 30 per cent and “unprecedented” difficulties in sourcing pickers due to Brexit and the pandemic, according to trade body British Apples and Pears (BAPL).

Labour shortages has sent wages soaring by up to 50 per cent in some cases, something that is affecting the future viability of small-scale UK apple growers, the association said.

“There is no doubt the unpredictable weather conditions have posed challenges to British apples and pear growers. Coupled with steep rises in the cost of production, 2021 is undoubtedly testing the industry,” said executive chair of BAPL and apple grower Ali Capper.   

According to a new report by research agency Andersons, in the six years from 2016 to 2021, UK growers have seen unprecedented increases in how much it costs to produce apples.

This has been driven mainly by wage inflation, which typically represents 35-40 per cent of a grower’s costs, and additional costs due to labour shortages arising from Brexit.

“These unprecedented increases in employment costs have had a significant impact on the economics and financial viability of UK apple and pear production,” a summary from Andersons read.

The bulk of the English apple season usually runs from August to around May, when supply typically switches over to southern hemisphere producers like Chile, Argentina and New Zealand, but this year that crossover is likely to be earlier.

“It will be a shorter season. Usually the season goes to May, but instinct tells me that by January-February, English fruit will be finished,” Ward said.

Comments

Ron Harper

3 Weeks 2 Days

Apple and pear trees in the garden also have fewer fruit this year than last.

0 Reply

Wicked Leeks issue 7 is out now

With a focus on regenerative farming, a cover interview with ethical restaurateur Asma Khan and we answer your questions on price, plastic and organic farming. Plus the joy of seasonal summer eating.

Read more

Ethical organic veg boxes

Riverford Organic Farmers, leading the Veg Revolution since 1986.

Shop Riverford

Guy's news...

Founder of Riverford Guy Singh-Watson writes a weekly column with news from the farm and more...

Read more
Spread the word

The twin crises of climate change and biodiversity losses will be the defining stories of our future, but it is not too late to change direction. 

Here at Wicked Leeks, our mission is to help inform and inspire positive change. Our journalism is free to all because of this, but we want to reach as many people as possible who share our desire for a better world. We know our readers are some of the biggest advocates of sustainable living, and you can help us grow this movement by sharing this article widely, with your friends and on social media. Now is the time to act.