September 22, 2023

Self-picked strawberry growers warn of a disappointing year

British strawberry growers report a “disappointing” season due to weather conditions.

Pat Wilson, owner of Scalby Grange, a pick-your-own farm in Gilberdyke, East Yorkshire, said a cold spring had stunted growth.

Customers were now playing “hunt the strawberry” during what should be a peak period, he said.

British Berry Growers, which promotes the industry, agreed that it was a “late start” to the strawberry season.

Mr Wilson, who has been a farmer for 45 years, said only 2007, when summer floods destroyed crops, was worse for yields.

He said: “It was really disappointing and frustrating, not only for us, but also for our customers who expect to find a lot of strawberries to pick.”

Mr Wilson said strawberries were the farm’s main crop. Usually his field yields five or six tons of summer delicacy every year.

This year, however, it will likely be just a fraction of that, with Mr Wilson blaming the late arrival of warmer temperatures. However, other berries, including raspberries, are plentiful.

Mr Wilson said: “It was mid to late April before we saw decent temperatures. You need temperatures into the mid teens.” [degrees Celsius] so that strawberry plants get going. For a long time it was lower than that, with night temperatures around zero.”

A late frost in early May also killed a large number of plants, he said.

Wilson said the problem is occurring at pick-your-own farms across the country, where strawberries are usually grown under cover, unlike supermarket suppliers who use heated polytunnels.

Mr. Wilson and his wife anticipated problems and came up with plans to build another field and plant 30,000 strawberry plants by May. Some are ripe now, but more sunny weather is needed, Wilson said.

He explained that while new strawberry plants will set fruit quickly, first-year yields are poor because suckers—long tendrils with one or more other plants at the ends—take time to establish.

Wilson called strawberry picking a “great British summer tradition” and added, “There’s nothing better than seeing happy children with strawberry juice running down their faces.”

“Unfortunately, it’s a case of ‘hunting the strawberry’ at the moment,” he said.

The BBC met Eddie Dempsey, along with wife Anna, and their children, aged three and two, as they struggled to fill a tray.

Dempsey, 39, said: “It takes a lot longer to fill a container this year, and they’re also a lot smaller. They’re still flavorful, though.”

A similar picture was reported in Lincolnshire, where Blain Fair, manager of Brader’s pick-and-pick farm in Louth, revealed that sales had fallen significantly due to poor yields.

“We have the customers, just not the strawberries,” he said. “You’ll be lucky if you find a single large strawberry this year. Last year we made £3,000 on a Saturday or Sunday. This year we’re making half that.”

Father and son looking for strawberries

Eddie Dempsey and his son scour a field for strawberries at Scalby Grange in East Yorkshire

Nick Marston, Chairman of British Berry Growers: “The strawberry season started late this year. Due to the chilly spring weather, British strawberries came into the season a month later than in 2022.

“However, this year’s harvest was worth the wait. Brits can enjoy bigger and juicier strawberries, which means they ripen longer.”

Mr Marston said commercial strawberry growers reported no shortages, with “advances in cultivation techniques” such as polytunnels meaning the UK would remain self-sufficient in strawberries until October.

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