Hot Harvest Report 2018

Produced in Kent, the organisation supporting growth of food and drink businesses and growers in Kent, has collected together data from its members to produce a Harvest Report from farms across Kent.

With such a cold dry Spring followed by a hot dry Summer, little rain and a warm start to autumn, the harvest has been extraordinary this year. The wine makers have seen near ‘ideal’ growing conditions for grapes with reports of high yields, high quality fruit and less requirement for “human” intervention.. The fruit and vegetable harvest has seen some reduction in yield but is producing some excellent quality fruit. The challenges have included increased need for irrigation as well as some difficulties finding seasonal workers.

Wine

It’s been an extraordinary year for wine this year with some winemakers describing the unusual weather as near perfect conditions for vines. Julian Barnes of Biddenden Vineyards says, “it’s been somewhat of dream season for vines, wine and wine tourism in Kent, a good growing season, from exceptional flowering, with lasting sunshine and dry mornings that will produce some exciting and different wines from this extraordinary year.” Rebecca Hirst the communications and investor relations lead at Chapel Down Group adds, “all that hot weather we had through from early June is exactly what grapes love so we’re in the midst of bringing in the largest quantity of fruit we have ever picked. The grapes have been of excellent quality with sugars and acids just where we would like them.” The Mount Vineyard’s Events Manager Emily Thompson comments more specifically on the effect of consistent warm weather on the vines. “The early heat of the season was sustained past budding and long into the summer; this meant growing conditions were perfect and vineyards suffered from very low disease pressure. This consequently reduces the human involvement which means less management and less chemicals applied.” She also talks about harvest quantity, “the yields this year are unprecedented, both in quality and volume. We expect to be stocking roughly 30,000 bottles for on-premise sales at The Mount Vineyard which is a 20% improvement on our previous record year.” Charlie Holland, CEO and winemaker at Gusbourne is looking forward to tasting the 2018 vintage. “We have had a very strong growing season, leading to a good level of ripeness in the grapes. I’m excited about the wines we will be able to create from the 2018 vintage, and look forward to sharing them with our customers.” Says Charlie Holland,

Fruit

Overall it has been a fairly good year for fruit crops. The harvest has been affected by the lack of rain so generally although yield is slightly down on last year the flavour and quality is good, Max Fane of Chegworth Valley Ltd observes that “apple and pear has been very abundant although a little on the small side due to the lack of rain. Soft fruit was good this year but instead of having staggered flushes all the fruit came at once due to the heat and had to be picked quickly to avoid any spoiling.” Michael Bourne Director of New Park Farm comments on all his fruit crop; “Cherries have shown good yields throughout season, escaping late frosts at flowering and damage from SWD (fruit fly). Strawberries have had moderate yields of good quality fruit. High temperatures have reduced yields but helped maintain quality under plastic. It’s been a good harvest for raspberries with low disease pressure. Bush fruit and plums have flowered well and the hot weather gave an early and good harvest.”

The inconsistencies in the fruit harvest has been one of the biggest challenges for farmers this year, with fruit ready for picking all at once rather than a steady flow, it has been challenging supplying the retailers in this way. Carol Ford of A C Goatham & Son comments on the fruit harvest, “in July we anticipated a lower yield for this harvest because the ‘June drop’ was higher than expected. This was caused by severe cold weather across the South East at the end of March. We are now just over half way through harvest (end of Sept), so we are still evaluating numbers. The crop quality is excellent for British production and the fruit is eating very well.” Owlets Fruit Juice owner Sue Corfield echoed the others, “The feeling here at Owlet House Fruit Farm is that the crop has been good. Cheerful Gold (our last variety) will all be picked mid-October. The fruit has sized well and the flavour is superb. Our struggle has been with finding reliable harvest workers.”

Vegetables

Vegetables have coped quite well with the heat “our potato harvest has progressed well this year due to excellent soil conditions and the general good weather, although crops are smaller in size and quality is variable; we are seeing sprouting and secondary growth all down to the heat this summer,” says Tracy Bush from Provenance Potatoes. Bush goes on to discuss the challenges of irrigation, “the general UK potato yield is down about 20% but we have seen good yields on irrigated crops in the South East. This is a major long-term concern for us in the UK and we have certainly seen the effects lack of water have had on unirrigated crops and fields not adequately watered this summer. The lower yields meant prices are considerably higher than last year and I think this will continue right through the storage season.” Michael Bourne Director of New Park Farm comments on all his vegetable crops; “Asparagus had a good season with high yields due to consistently high temperatures through May and June. There has been very good growth on the gourds, like pumpkins and courgettes.

Growers have found that the demand for local produce has been steady although harvest has been more challenging for some. Paul Vesey-Wells of Walmestone Growers Ltd has experienced good yields of courgettes, squash and cucumbers and comments on the difficulties and expense of irrigation, “the very cold start to Spring meant we had very high heating costs for the greenhouse and many outdoor crops were planted late. Also the remainder of 2017's crops were ruined. The very dry May/June/July meant that there were multiple failed plantings, and the crops that were successful had much higher labour costs due to the time it took to irrigate. When the rain did finally come in August, as a low input farm, we had an unprecedented weed problem, resulting in lower yields.”

Rapeseed

“The great weather we had meant we were able to bring in the full harvest due to extended dry periods.” comments Laura Bounds Owner and Managing Director of Kentish Oils.

Produced in Kent is a trade organisation dedicated to supporting & promoting food, drink, products and services in Kent. It provides vital support to a diverse range of businesses which in turn provide valuable employment opportunities in Kent, at the economic heart of the community. www.producedinkent.co.uk (consumer)

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