Cherries: the late season opportunity
This study tour was about extending the cherry season in the UK to capitalise on the late season market where prices are higher than in the main season. This market is primarily supplied from expensive, long distance imported fruit or left undersupplied. The study shows that there is a significant opportunity to extend the cherry season in the UK, and that this can be done both successfully and profitably.
The countries chosen reflect the furthest southwards and northwards latitudes in the cherry seasonality calendar, which are actively engaged in trying to extend their own seasons later to capitalise on what could be an open marketplace globally.
With limited knowledge or experience of cherry production in Scotland, one of the key parts of the study was to establish what the challenges might be, as well as how these are being overcome elsewhere; and finally what we could take home to successfully extend the season.
Practical cherry growing challenges include those resulting from climate at higher latitudes. Varietal challenges exist in terms of the most suitable late season variety. Additionally there are specific challenges related to non-cherry producers converting into cherries from other horticultural or arable systems. For example potentially conflicting advice can be offered to the inexperienced ear; different methods can be inadvertently mixed; and the impact of pruning methods on different varieties may not be fully understood.
Visits to Norway and Tasmania in particular showed that climatic adversity can be overcome with robust covering methods. Ongoing research in Europe and North America is likely to lead to better later varieties. I additionally noted that storage techniques exist that enable “not so late” varieties of known potential to give a safe option to season extension. Research and development in all regions I visited successfully demonstrates straightforward plantation and pruning arrangements that can give consistent results if adhered to from the start, and growers in any given region are never too far from being able to see examples of this in conditions similar to their own.
This study found that we should not be afraid to grow cherries under covering systems developed specifically for cherries – these have been proven in some demanding climates. New entrants to late cherry production must pay great attention to the pruning requirements, especially during tree formation. It’s vital to decide on a system prior to establishing the plantation, with an end in mind at that point. Lastly, we can grow great varieties that are known to work, and also store them well. This can be better than growing the very latest variety that may have other lesser characteristics and may not store so well.
The industry needs to find means of encouraging new entrants from outwith soft and top fruit to convert into late season cherry producers. The industry should not rule out collaborations between established producers in mainstream regions with those having land and resources in newer cherry production regions, as this could also enable growers with land but lower appetite for risk to make a sound move into such a high risk enterprise.