Why some British apple and pear orchards are being dug up

The BBC (The One Show and BBC Kent) recently reported on how apple farmers in Kent are being forced to dig up their orchards. Understandably, this has concerned British apple lovers. We want to explain a little about why apple orchard planting is on hold.

Why are orchards being dug up?

Growers renew their oldest orchards most years as part of their natural lifecycle. It’s absolutely normal for apple growers to replant their orchards every 12 to 18 years.

What’s not normal is to dig up apple trees and not replace them. That’s what’s different this year. British apple growers normally plan to plant 1 to 1.5 million trees every year. However, this year many, many apple growers in the UK have paused their investment in replanting.  In fact, this year growers said they planned to plant only 500,000 new apple trees and they have since cancelled a third of those tree orders.

Why are orchards not being replaced?

Very simply, growers cannot afford to invest in new orchards because they have such low returns on their fruit. Last year a report by Promar for the NFU found that inflation for growers was running at around 23%. In contrast, growers only received on average a 0.8% increase in their returns from selling apples to supermarkets. Growers cannot afford to replant their orchards. They’re doing their best to survive.

What’s the impact of orchards not being replanted?

The immediate concern is the loss of British-grown fruit and the biodiversity loss. Modern orchards are planted with wildflowers to encourage pollinators. Growers are actively connecting with nature in their orchards and without the investment they need, orchard biodiversity is at risk.

In the longer term – next five years or so – a lack of apple orchard planting (renewal) now will mean fewer British apples in the supermarkets for shoppers. At a time when we should all be buying closer to home, for environmental reasons, and when healthy eating is high on the agenda, this would be a terrible outcome. We have the ideal climate for growing the best apples in the world and we have the potential to grow many more than we are now, but we must protect the industry now to enable that to happen.

Why can’t the apple trees be left in the ground

Orchards take lots of maintenance; trees need pruning, wildflower leys need to be maintained, apples need to be picked. All of this is fine when growers are receiving a fair return, but they cannot afford to maintain orchards that need to be replaced and are at the end of their natural life.

What’s the solution?

In the short term, growers need fairer rewards from the supply chain. They need a higher return to cover the inflation in costs they’re experiencing. In the longer term, growers need long-term contracts with supermarkets and certainty. With assurance that they will receive a fair return for their produce, growers can invest in the new trees they need to replenish their orchards.

You can do your bit to help too. You can support British growers, by buying British apples from your local supermarket.

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