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Weather takes a bite out of apple harvest
Buy this photo » Jan Bailey, left, of the Elder Stubbs Heritage Orchard and Phil Milner, a member of the Restore Garden group, with some of the apples damaged by the weather
THE wettest summer for a century has decimated Oxfordshire’s apple crop.
Apple growers, cider producers and orchard owners across the county say their harvest is one of the worst they can remember.
The Elder Stubbs Heritage Orchard, in Cowley, is run by the mental health charity Restore and boasts 45 English apple varieties, including Blenheim Orange and Oxford Sunset. But this year its usually apple-laden trees are almost bare.
Co-ordinator Jan Bailey said: “The weather has had a catastrophic effect on the orchard and we think we will be lucky to get 30 per cent of our normal harvest.
“Some days we had hail, wind, rain and sunshine, all in one day, and this has major implications, not just for the charity, which relies on our crop to sell as apple juice, but also for the wider community.
“We regularly host local schools including Larkrise Infants and Juniors and teach them about our orchard and how to press apples, but this year we don’t have enough apples to do that for them.”
Trade association English Apples and Pears said heavy rain in June deterred bees from leaving their hives to pollinate apple tree blossoms, resulting in disaster for growers.
Chief executive Adrian Barlow said: “There were few insects flying around, and temperatures were so low pollen was not being produced. What we had as a result were second, third and even fourth flowerings so there was a great variation in how apples matured and the sizes they reached.
“There was also much greater russeting – browning of skins – and heavily browned apples do not meet the class 1 standard and can’t be sold to supermarkets.”
Judy Mallett and her sons Ben and Richard took over Upton Fruit Farm, home of the Upton Cider Company, near Didcot, last year and said their first harvest had been a rotter.
Ben, 24, said: “We have whole rows of trees that are completely bare. But in real terms it is balancing itself out because the weather meant not too many people came here to buy cider and because of that we should have just enough for the season.”
Upton Farm makes its cider from a combination of 10 varieties of apple.
With some farmers reporting crops down by as much as 90 per cent on last year, Mr Barlow said a great deal now rested on what happened with the mid-season and late-season varieties in the coming weeks.
He said: “All indications point to a shortfall and because of the failure of the crops in eastern America and Canada it will probably mean higher prices for all of us.
“But the good news is that English growers will be paid more for the crops they do have.”
'OUR PRODUCE IS NORMALLY HIGHER'
Wolvercote Community Orchard in Godstow Road, Wolvercote, was planted in 1993 by volunteers from the Wolvercote Tree Group.
The group leases the land from the Oxford Preservation Trust for the annual rent of a basket of apples and local people donated money to plant apples that they hadn’t tasted since childhood.
As a result there are now around 20 varieties associated with Oxfordshire including Peggy’s Pride, Sergeant Peggy, Jennifer Wastie and Red Army.
Peter Adams, chairman of the Tree Group, which runs the orchard, said: “We usually produce around 400kg of apples a year but this year we will be lucky to get half that.
“It’s a shame, but it means that as well as not having so much fruit to sell – which we need to maintain the orchard, it will also reduce the amount of help we can give to the local groups and other community orchards we support.”