They said it wasn’t possible but 10 years on the English apricot industry is flourishing
11 July 2022
Ten years ago the first ever English grown apricots tentatively crept into UK supermarkets despite many agronomists suggesting sustained production would not be possible in the British climate.
Now, with this year’s bumper harvest about to hit Tesco shelves, the future couldn’t be rosier as UK growers predict they will have their biggest ever crop this year – amounting to 250 tonnes.
Not only should that be enough to last from now until around mid-September but it means that the UK is likely to be the only place in the world where apricots are in production at that time of year.
It’s a far cry from 10 years ago when a handful of gutsy, mainly Kentish fruit farmers managed to produce an admirable crop of around 40 tonnes which sold out as quickly as they hit supermarket shelves.
Tesco spotted the future potential early on and started working with local growers in 2009, with a view to launching major scale English apricot production.
Tesco Stone Fruit Buyer Maria Katsipi said:
“The apricots are grown in what is known as the ‘Garden of England’ – an area that produces arguably the best apples, pears, and strawberries in the world because of its gentle slopes and fantastic microclimate.
“Now 10 years on, the quality of the apricots grown this year that will hit our shelves next week are world class – as good if not better than the ones produced in France and Portugal,
“UK shoppers have a great affinity for British grown fruit and can’t get enough of these English apricots.”
Tesco was instrumental in helping set up the nascent British apricot industry and started working on a production partnership with DPS, one of the UK’s largest stone fruit suppliers back in 2010.
Until the late noughties British apricot production was not thought possible because of our cooler climate.
But the arrival on the market of apricot cultivars - basically tree hybrids bred especially for cooler climates that would flower later in the spring - have made British apricot production possible.
Apricot trees still need a lot of sunshine and as a result all the production at the moment is in the southern counties of England, with growers mainly in Kent and one on the Isle of Wight.
David Moore, owner of Home Farm, near Maidstone, is now the UK’s biggest grower of English apricots, and Tesco’s main supplier who this summer looks set to produce a record-breaking 136 tonnes.
“Production has really improved in the last 10 years and we are now far better prepared for the changeable British weather.
“Ironically, the cooler British night-time temperature produces very high quality apricots as the fruit grows more slowly, resulting in a more intense and sweet taste plus a stronger, richer colour than imported varieties from France and Portugal.
“In the last 10 years we’ve learned about understanding the light needs of fruit ripening for these new varieties and so we have adopted our pruning style to maximise the amount of light reaching the fruit bearing parts of the tree.
“In addition we have had to learn how to combat the effect of frost in the early season growing stages and we now have an insulating crop cover structure to protect the crop from the extremes of the UK climate.
“This year has been a very good growing season with the right amount of rain, sunshine and the recent heatwave has helped create a high quality crop.”
The first English apricots of the season will hit Tesco stores from this week, priced at £1.50 per punnet.