Suffolk and Essex strawberry growers prepare for busy season as fresh berries become shoppers' staple
PUBLISHED: 15:38 16 May 2019 | UPDATED: 09:14 17 May 2019
Sally Carpenter, PR Act
A fruit grower in Essex has managed to get its strawberry crop in stores two weeks ahead, thanks to an innovative new growing system.
Wilkin & Sons at Tiptree succeeded in extending its season to more than half a year as a result of changes to its growing methods around three years ago which enabled it to double its growing capacity.
Growers in Suffolk say their crop is looking about average in terms of maturity and yield, despite reports of early ripening. Last year' crops matured fairly early, thanks to warm spring weather following the 'Beast from the East' cold wave.
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"We have had fresh strawberries in stores since late April thanks to our innovative Tiptree New Growing System," said joint managing director Chris Newenham. "This is two weeks ahead of the fruit grown on table tops under Spanish tunnels. New techniques have enabled us to extend the strawberry growing season, that was originally six weeks in high summer, to more than six months. Our fruit is grown for the fresh fruit market, it is made into traditional conserves and used in our range of Tiptree fruit gin liqueurs."
Andrew Sturgeon of Lodge Farm, Lindsey, near Ipswich, who grows varieties including Elsanta, Sonata and Arabella, said he will start picking in his polytunnels next week (beginning May 20). "There are just a few red berries now and the numbers will increase rapidly. We normally start about May 20 so an average year, I think," he said. "The exceptionally warm February made us think that we were going to have a very early season but at the end of April and early May cooler days and cold nights changed that."
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Andrew has a small area of strawberries under glass at Newbourne and has been picking there for three weeks, in what he classes as an "average" season. He expects to continue picking until the end of October, although yields usually drop around September.
James Blyth, who grows fruit including strawberries, raspberries, blackcurants, redcurrants and blueberries for Friday Street Farm Shop at Saxmundham and Goslings Farm Shop at Trimley St Martin, said so far it was shaping up to be an average year.
"We are pretty much par," he said, adding that he expects his table-top strawberry crop to start ripening in about three weeks' time. "They are all fine - just ticking along."
Berries have the biggest market share of all fruit grown in the UK, making up 24.5%, pushing the value of the berry industry over £1.4bn, according to industry body British Summer Fruits (BSF), with fresh berries now the most popular fruit item in shoppers' baskets.
BSF chairman Nick Marston said: "Ongoing innovations in our industry including the introduction of great new varieties of berries delivering sweetness and flavour, and advanced growing techniques such as large-scale glasshouse production for season extension, has meant that we can now offer shoppers the freshest, highest-quality British berries for nine months of the year."