With the national and international news getting progressively more depressing during August it’s hard to be an optimist although we are hardly alone in our fears for this winter and beyond. Certainly, the forecasts at Prognosfruit 2022 for the European apple and pear crop in early August have proved optimistic as little or no rain fell to alleviate the drought across most countries including the southern counties of Britain. Top-fruit predictions initially very close to last year will have to be drastically revised downwards due to the drought. More will go to processing. The supply of fresh Gala apples will be reduced due to the weather conditions across Europe. However, the quality of the fruit is good with exceptional sugar levels. Let’s hope this helps consumption, which has been falling throughout Europe, to pick up again. At least vineyards are gearing up for an early high-quality crop of grapes this September.
Some vineyards can attract local people to pick grapes with the promise of a bottle of wine and a harvest supper, but that’s hardly an option for the rest of the fruit industry. If Liz Truss is the new Prime Minister, she has promised to give growers certainty and to extend a and expand SAWS. Let’s hope that the cost of living and the energy crisis doesn’t push this off the Government’s agenda. In his Comment Andrew Tinsley considers the recently published Government review of automation in horticulture. Its first recommendation is for a long-term seasonal worker scheme while much of the report focuses on when, how and to what extent robotic technologies could help. It agrees that selective harvest at scale is likely to take a long time to develop and if left to market forces will not be available for wide-scale adoption until well after 2030. What a surprise!
Trying whacky ideas in the field to save growers the cost of experiments with new ways of increasing orchard productivity summarises the ambition of the fruit team at HL Hutchinson Ltd with their HELIOS and associated projects. A visit to their Kent orchards sheds light on the trials. Another report this month on the latest developments at the East Malling WET Centre shows how the work is delivering ‘precision growing’ to the soft-fruit industry. Most recently the Centre has expanded to include raspberry tunnels.
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