Over the past few decades, an increasing number of fruit growers in the UK have experienced the damage that hail, and pests and diseases, can do to their orchards. Determined not to be beaten by these challenges, forward-thinking grower Adrian Scripps Ltd – winner of the 69th Goudhurst and Paddock Wood NFU Orchard Competition – has set up two hail-net trials at its Moat Farm site near Tonbridge, Kent. Rachel Anderson reports.
The day’s short, intense, summer showers cleared up just in time for this year’s Goudhurst and Paddock Wood NFU Orchard Competition Walk around the winning farm – the picturesque Moat Farm in Five Oak Green. On 7 August the farm hosted just under 100 visitors. The NFU’s group secretary Martin Webber said: “In these times of political chaos and future uncertainty, it is very refreshing to see growers that are willing to reinvest in their business, plant new orchards and invest in packing and infrastructure in relation to the industry.” He added: “This year, we have had an increased acreage of fruit to judge, and the weather over the judging period was extremely hot and I take my hat off to all of the judges who, despite these unfavourable conditions, completed all the necessary work well within the given time frames. The crop this year seems to be good quality but not of bumper proportions, and the level of overall husbandry for all of the entrants is, as ever, extremely high.”
Adrian Scripps Ltd’s production director Mark Holden gave the group a brief background of Moat Farm, which grows nearly 51ha of fruit. Mainly, the farm produces 26ha of Gala and 6ha of Bramley. However, new orchards of Jazz (6 ha) and Braeburn (5.7ha) are being planted this winter. Moat Farm is also home to 6.1ha of blackcurrants and a trial orchard featuring some 35 top-fruit varieties. Mark began the farm walk by praising the farm’s team, saying: “I am indebted to the team that run the farm for me, and particularly to Mihai Stanca, who is the orchard manager for the Tonbridge farms. Without this calibre of guys, and their enthusiasm, the farm would not look like it does now.”
The visitors’ first stop was a 6ha Gala orchard planted in 2011 and covered in a retro-fitted Whailex hail-net system. It takes a team of four and a Hercules orchard platform to put up the netting, which is only rolled up a couple of times each year, when the fruit is thinned and picked. “We don’t roll it up to spray” said Mark, who revealed that the netting, which they first trialled last year, doesn’t seem to affect the colour of the apples.
After being given a demonstration of how the hail net is rolled up and down, the group visited an eight-year-old, 8ha orchard that has “a bit of a chequered history.” Currently, it grows Gala Galaxy and Gala Schniga, but the Galaxy is a newer addition. Four years ago, it replaced Kanzi that had succumbed to canker. A challenge for the farm this year has been sun scorch which, along with woolly apple aphid, Mark described as being one of the farm’s biggest problems this season. Visitors were shown how sun scorch has affected the apples of a 12-year-old Bramley orchard. Mark said: “We’ve not taken the scorched fruit off. One, because you are going to knock more fruit off and, two, because as soon as you expose the fruit you get another hot spell and get more sun scorch. So, the fruit will just be left on and then we will just put it on the floor.”
During the fourth leg of the farm tour, the group were shown a new Gala One orchard in its second leaf that sits next to the trials orchard and whose first crop is expected to be 25 tonnes/ha. Mark pointed out that this, and all the orchards, are pollinated by Malus varieties (crab apple).
The final part of the tour saw visitors wandering underneath the capacious 7ha flat hail-net that is covering a young Gala orchard like a huge festival tent. Mark informed the group that its vast size enables the orchard, which was covered by the net earlier this year, to be sprayed using a three-row sprayer. Happily, the hail-nets have kept codling moths away. Mark said: “In future, we should be able to eliminate all codling sprays, but we don’t know about aphids yet.” Mark and Mihai noted that both the farm’s hail-net systems (the Whailex and the flat hail-net) took a similar number of hours to put up. This system took 124 hours/ha whilst the Whailex system took 121 hours/ha. The vast, flat hail-net is, however, the more expensive net of the two to purchase, but time will tell which system ends up being the most economical.
After the visitors enjoyed a refreshing drink, trophies were awarded to the winners of this year’s competition. As the overall winner, with marks of 168 out of 175, Adrian Scripps Ltd’s Moat Farm was awarded the BASF Championship Trophy by Martin Webber. Giles Cannon, representing competition sponsor Avalon Produce Ltd, commented that the Moat Farm team is “a well-deserved winner of the competition.”
Ian Overy Farms (Mascalls Court, Burrs Hill and Crouches Farms) was the competition’s runner-up, picking up several trophies including: the Dow AgroSciences trophy for the highest marks – Class 1; the Norman Collett trophy for highest marks – pests and diseases section; and the FAST trophy for highest marks – management.
Grower Clive Baxter concluded the evening by thanking the Adrian Scripps team “for putting on such a splendid farm walk.” He also noted that Moat Farm is a fine example of what top-fruit producers can achieve when they work hard and have a great team.
Results from the Goudhurst & Paddock Wood NFU Fruit Spraying & Orchard Management Competition can be found in the September issue of The Fruit Grower magazine.
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