Mixed reports for Scotland’s fruit harvest

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This summer has seen many of Scotland’s fruit growers benefit from supermarkets putting more local produce on their shelves and less imports.

And with a rise in demand for some berries, so far a ‘normal’ harvest has been seen for many. However, the National Living Wage poses a great concern.

Plant diseases have also created problem for growers, limiting the crops’ yields.

James Porter, NFU Scotland’s Horticulture Working Group Chairman, from Carnoustie, Angus, said: “Some early strawberries yielded very well while main crop yields were probably a little below average. It’s impossible to give a clear statement on how fruit yields have been overall as there has been a lot of variation from across the country.

“The slightly cool summer in Scotland, in particular, has meant crops are around a week or so later than usual, but the cooler weather has prevented sudden gluts, leading to a good average price for supermarket and wholesale fruit over the season.

“Generally the two biggest concerns for growers right now will be long term availability of labour and the National Living Wage (NLW). Growers and their employees need assurances as soon as possible that the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme or equivalent will be re-instated after Brexit. Without it, the impact on soft fruit and vegetable sectors in Scotland and the rest of the UK will be devastating. In terms of the NLW, we have experienced an unprecedented minimum wage rise of 11.3 percent this year once holiday pay and employers’ NI is taken into account.

“As growers we should all be keen to see our employees take home a good wage for their hard work, but we have no means of recovering this kind of increase at the point of sale.

“I met representatives from the Low Pay Commission on 6 July along with Grampian Growers to express our concerns. Our message was simply that year on year rises in wages like this are unsustainable, and will have a serious long term impact on soft fruit and vegetable production in the UK.”

Peter Thomson, who has 30 ha of fruit on West Haugh and Westfield Farms at Blairgowrie, Perthshire commented: “Cherry prices have held up well as the English crop has been less than half of expectation. Blueberries have also held up well as demand is rising over 25 per cent per annum, and supermarkets are also favouring UK fruit over imports. Overall, not too far off “normal”.

“From what I hear from other growers, strawberries have been slightly down on yield, but prices perhaps higher than expected, so the year is OK. Raspberries are similar, but variable, as some bad cases of Root Rot have limited yields.”

Ross Mitchell, of Castleton Farms, Laurencekirk, said: “From our point of view this has been a very normal type of year. The little bit of a lack of sunshine and wet summer have not caused too many problems.

“Growing wise it has been as steady and normal as you could get really.
“The market though has been very strong with fruit sales continue to rise year on year. Whether it’s enough to combat the ongoing NLW increase is yet to be seen!”

John Brown, East Yonderton Farm, Renfrewshire said: “Here in Renfrewshire our pick your own business has again been greatly affected by the climate, although being in the west, this is nothing new.

“A hot, dry spell of weather from middle of May to middle of June meant an earlier start to cropping than normal – 16 June compared to 3 July last year.
“Wet weather from the off and throughout the season has greatly affected customer numbers and as a result yields in strawberries are down significantly this year – nearly 25 per cent. Losses down to Botrytis another majoring factor.

“Symphony is still the major cropper here and Sonata also performs well. This is the first year with Fenella and Vibrant – jury is still out with those two.

“Raspberries, on the flip side, performed well this year with yields up 10 per cent on the previous two years, despite a slightly smaller plantation. Glen Ample and Tullameen are still major varieties with no new ones this year.

“Gooseberrry and blackcurrants crops were average at best.

“To conclude, difficult season, with disease pressures high throughout. The winner? The weather.”

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