Suffolk/Essex: Strawberry crops hit by cold weather

Sophie Wheldon with some of the late blooming strawberries at her farm near Sudbury

Sophie Wheldon with some of the late blooming strawberries at her farm near Sudbury - Credit: Archant

The coldest March for half a century has had a knock-on effect on strawberry growers in Suffolk and Essex.

Fruit farmers are experiencing substantial delays in berries growing and ripening due to the unseasonal conditions, which has led to one of the region’s latest ever starts to the strawberry season.

Around 5,000 visitors to Wilkin and Sons in Tiptree, which held an open farm Sunday at the weekend, had to make do with flowers and green berries instead of ripe strawberries.

This is because some varieties such as Little Scarlet will be three to four weeks late according to the farm’s director, Chris Newenham.

He said: “The cold spring has had a major impact on the start of the fresh fruit season. Our fruit has developed great flavour this year as a result of slow ripening, but it is just a little too slow for us.

“We hoped to send our first Tiptree strawberries to the supermarkets in early May to meet consumer demand but we are now competing for a place on the supermarket shelves with strawberries from Scotland as well as the rest of the UK.”

Strawberries can be grown in a wide range of soils but they need plenty of warmth and sun to help them ripen. Heavy rain like that experienced last summer can also lead to waterlogging, which can rot the strawberry plants and cause the fruits to become diseased.

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Wheldon’s Fruit Farm in Newton Leys near Sudbury is planning a strawberry fair later this month. Farm owner Sophie Wheldon said it had been a tough couple of years for strawberry growers, adding: “We are definitely behind by a couple of weeks and the reason the fruit is developing later than normal is the cold weather.

“Last year the season started quite early because it was warm and then we were hit by heavy rain so the fields got flooded.

“The cold has certainly thrown a few farmers this year because we usually plan events at this time of year when we should be guaranteed plenty of strawberries, so it is a bit disappointing.

“We have managed to start pick-your-own and hopefully with a few days of sunshine, we should soon be able to get properly underway.”

Because of the growing delay, Alder Carr Farm, in Creeting St. Mary near Ipswich has even had to buy in some strawberries for its farm shop.

Supervisor Laura Firmin said: “Last year, we suffered a lot of wastage due to the wet so this year we have been growing them in a tunnel so they are covered from the rain.

“However, we are now behind by about three weeks because of the cold so we don’t expect our own strawberries to be ready until the end of June. But we are hopeful that when it finally arrives, the strawberry season will last longer than usual.”