Conference is eye opener

Writers Posted 31/08/18
Life never stands still in farming does it! I am just back from a quick trip to Poland to an international crop conference for apples and pears; it was a real eye opener on several levels.

Along with an American colleague I was an apologist for our political situation, for Todd Fryhover of Washington State Apple Commission of course it was the global implications of president Trump’s trade war that was causing him, and others, pain.

He spoke about the extensive trade and duty issues for the 45 million bushels they export each year. The eight million bushels they have historically sent to India will now have a duty of 75% charged, the 1.1 million bushels sent to China will have a 50% duty applied. They have typically exported 15 million bushels to Mexico and that will attract a 20% duty this season.

Our near European and southern hemisphere suppliers were eyeing up the prospect of a hard Brexit and the impending application of trade duties with great concern – we are an important part of their business, a segment of their production managed for our consumer preferences. We don’t grow enough nor have sufficient storage to satisfy 100% of the apple and pear consumption needs of our populace, even if we could grow all the varieties they love!

One stark reminder on the power of words was the press response to the World Apple and Pear Association (WAPA) press release which trotted out the old chestnut ‘bumper crop’… again. Always guaranteed to drive prices down and mess up an already volatile marketplace it needs some clarification on what actually is going on out there. China had a dreadful winter for a start, so cold in some regions it killed people and also fruit trees, the spring brought sharp frost during blossom and then hail to remove fruitlets, their estimate is 12m tonnes of fruit down on their 2017 crop, that’s the same volume as the entire production of Europe! So globally not bumper, its down. The world’s largest market and processor has 28% of its crop missing and there aren’t any stocks of fresh or processed fruit left, anywhere, surely that should have been the more apposite title?

Undoubtedly as we start the UK’s harvest 2018 there are going to be a few challenges – will we have enough staff for a start? By the end of September we were 27% short of pickers, because of the short crop last year the consequential loss was confined to pockets of very ripe fruit that didn’t make their full market potential.

This year the effort put into securing labour has been phenomenal, 41% of fruit farms have seen fewer applications this year, 38% saying its been harder than ever to recruit and 61% believe it will be worse next year. Wage increases have seen costs rise on average 12% year-on-year for fruit farmers, we are now one of the best payers within Europe, and still we struggle?

Perhaps we need to have a look at how we are portrayed, are we really that unwelcoming or are we making too much of a few incidents? We genuinely don’t have enough UK nationals who can or would come fruit picking, advertising really doesn’t generate nearly enough people, principally because the largest concentrations of those out of work aren’t near fruit farms so we really need a charm offensive wrapped around whatever visa or permit scheme we have in the future. We certainly won’t be without a route to labour, its just ensuring that the rest of the talented people who might be helping run our farms and packhouses in the future get to come too.

When you see a British apple or pear in the shops this year it will be amazing, while all of this anxiety surrounds us we have grown fruit that has great flavour.


Tweets from @southeastfarmer