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The English Apple Man


30th Jun 2023 - BIFGA Summer farm walk ends with some hard truths for Supermarkets

On Tuesday evening, the British Independent Fruit Growers (BIFGA) celebrated 35 years as a catalyst for fair play for British Fruit Growers.


Chairman John Breach has campaigned ferociously for 'fair play' influencing the industry and in particular the formation of a Groceries Trade Adjudicator - The Groceries Code Adjudicator is responsible for regulating the relationships between the UK's largest grocery retailers and their direct suppliers by encouraging, monitoring and enforcing compliance with the Groceries Supply Code of Practice.


GCA works with the Department for Business and Trade.


John Breach said BIFGA is proud that: "Over the years, we have used our voice to lobby government and others on a very wide range of subjects. We have also used the Association as a forum to bring together growers and allied companies to their mutual benefit.


BIFGA was formed in 1988, primarily to give independent apple and pear growers a 'voice'


Members and invited visitors assembled at Downgate Farm, Sandhurst in Kent for a walk around part of Downgate's organic orchards..


"Mole End Farms grows top fruit organically on approximately 110 Hectares across 8 sites in Kent at Cranbrook, Marden, Goudhurst, Sandhurst and Chart Sutton. We grow, store, pack and market our own produce"



Below: Paul Ward welcoming BIFGA members to Downgate Farm


Reflecting on the difference between Organic and Conventional growing, and aware that most growers present were conventional growers. Paul Ward said we all had a good crop last year and wether conventional or organic, took time to sell all the crop.


We at Mole End Farms finished selling our 2022 crop towards the end of May this year.


We market through RIVERFORD ORGANICS who take 65% -70% of our fruit.


During COVID the Riverford sales of organic apples went right up, but in the period after Covid, they came right back down again! Fortunately things have settled down now.


Growing organic fruit in the UK is; "like skiing up hill" - "we have a very, very, limited range of PCP's (pest control products) we can use. Due to the very wet weather this spring, we gave had to spray 3 times a week with Bicarbonate of Soda to try and control scab.


While conventional PCP's have an eradicant capability, Bicarb only has limited 'protective' capability.


This season we have had problems with Rosy apple aphid, last year wooly aphid was a problem.


We estimate this year's crop will be 35% -40% of last year.


For an extensive understanding of Paul Wards 'Mole End Farms' business click on The English Apple Man Journal for September 2022




Below: A gathering of 84 attended the BIFGA Summer Walk



Below: Attendees gather at the orchards where Cabaret, Stardance and Natura are located and right Cabaret



Below: left and right, Cabaret trees



Below: BIF GA group in Cabaret orchard and The English Apple Man 'struggling a bit'



Below: Stardance tree and right The EAM's friend Mherdad keeping me company as we walk back 'UP' the hill!



left. Richard Budd and Sam Barnes explaining the apple tree machine planting system used last year and right.we gather for Richard's arable talk



Richard Budd informs attendees how he changed his arable operation to 'direct drilling'


Richard Budd told us how traditional cultivation was presenting problems with headlands, weed seeds and in particular blackgrass, and loss of yield plus difficulty finding skilled labour, so in 2012 he initiated the move to direct drilling.


This brought an improvement in soil quality and yields. We have invested heavily in the latest technology as we farm on 8 sites across Kent & Sussex The arable operation relies on 3 people, managing 3.000 acres. Richard and two others.


Direct drills: the first system used relied on tractor, cultivator and drill then 2 years ago bought mounted direct disc drill machine!


Direct drilling, where the seed is drilled into unploughed soil, has become more widespread since the late 1980s. It maintains soil moisture, improves the soil structure and results in less soil loss from wind.


It is common for the existing crop or pasture to be sprayed twice before being left fallow for about six weeks while the old vegetation breaks down. This direct drill follows the same layout as a standard seed drill. However, instead of a normal coulter (blade) for drilling the seed in the ground, it has a pair of discs in a V-shape that cut the surface of the soil and open up a small furrow.












Below: John Breach welcoming attendees to BIFGA presentation flanked by Secretary Judi Perry and Vice Chairman Colin Corfield



In his address John Breach welcomed speakers Carl McNiece from Oxbury Bank and Ali Capper from British Apples and Pears (BAPL) and thanked last two years we have had representation over 50% of the leading Supermarkets, however several for some reason have not responded to our invitation this year, but we have received apologies from ALDI BM STORES & LIDL. We are very pleased to welcome Vernon Davis Head of Buying Fresh Fruit at Sainsburys and Mark Booth Buying Manage Exotics and Top Fruit from Morrisons


John went on to remind us all that this year we are celebrating the 35th Anniversary of BIFGA and after the evenings business, we will be celebration with Gribble Ridge Sparkling Wine and a Birthday Cake.



Carl McNiece - OXBURY BANK Plc Carl said we are the only UK bank dedicated to British agriculture - We provide farmers with the specialised lending they need to run their farms.


Oxbury was launched in February 2021 and is the UK's only specialist agricultural bank and the only bank that has a singular focus on the rural economy. We provide farmers with the specialised lending that they need to run their farms and provide savings accounts to any individual or business that wants to back British farmers and UK agriculture.


We have a deep understanding of the agricultural sector and the challenges that farmers face because we talk to farmers about their business every day.


Oxbury is the UK's only specialist agricultural bank and the only bank that has a singular focus on the rural economy. We provide farmers with the specialised lending that they need to run their farms and provide savings accounts to any individual or business that wants to back British farmers and UK agriculture.


We have developed a number of specialist areas of finance. Our average loan is circa 1,000,000 but can be as much as £10,000,000.


We can be flexible within the loan period, if necessary.


Since launching as a fully regulated bank in February 2021 Oxbury has grown and is now the bank of choice for farmers.


So our ethos is very much rural lending and only within the British Isle.






Below: Ali Capper - Executive Chair British Apples and Pears Limited (BAPL)


Ali Capper opened her presentation with a brief overview of her role working with the BAPL Board for the promotion of British Apples and Pears. This involves many areas of gathering important crop and marketing data. Ali personally is continuously ''lobbying' Supermarkets, Government departments, etc.


Retailer representation! Ali said she has been doing rather a lot of this over the last 6 months - 'banging on doors!.


Ali said in the spring of 2022 "I was worried about energy and inflation, The Bank of England inflation forecast was I felt 'overoptimistic' and "I was proved right!


July 2021 buying gas for our own farming business, we bought gas at 26p a litre and by Winter it had gone up to 52p a litre (doubled) the initial blame was purported to be due to the global economy coming out of Covid?


In Autumn of 2021 Salad growers in the Lea Valley stopped winter production due to energy costs. Spring of 2022 saw shortage of salads as drop in UK production could NOT be replaced 'at short notice' by importers!


For the first time, an independent analysis has exposed the real cost of production crisis facing UK apple growers.


The analysis, conducted by farm business consultants Andersons, reveals that it now costs £1.26 (median cost) to produce a kilo of British apples.


Ali said: "I can't think of a single apple grower that is making money." - "The costs of labour, storage, haulage, tree planting and orchard maintenance have all increased. What hasn't increased is the return to growers.


"This analysis confirms what, anecdotally, growers have been saying for months. UK apple growing just isn't profitable at the moment. In fact, for most it's loss making.


BAPL points to a disconnect between the prices consumers are paying for apples and the return to growers. According to ONS data, the lowest consumer price of apples increased 17% between September 2021 and September 2022<1>. However, UK apple growers only reported a 0.8% increase in what supermarkets pay them for their fruit<2>.


Supermarket increases of retail price for apples



The BAPL asks of retailers are:


A reset on returns to recognise the unprecedented cost of production inflation. Long-term partnerships and prioritisation of British apples and pears over imports to enable growers to invest in the future with confidence.


To work with growers to reinvigorate the category with in-store and online 'theatre', and packaging that celebrates the many benefits of British apples.


Despite significant cost of production increases, British apples remain highly in demand.


The English Apple Man Comments


In spite of the 'retail' price increases by Supermarkets, it appears the sales volume has not been affected, suggesting consumers are happy to pay a fair price for British apples!


Finally, after Ali Capper's comprehensive presentation, questions were invited! The English Apple Man said; "Ali Capper, John Breach and many others have and still are working tirelessly in support of our apple growers, it all comes down to a simple equation - THE GROWERS NEED MORE MONEY, THE SUPERMARKETS HAVE THE ANSWER, EITHER RAISE THE RETAIL PRICE, OR CUT THEIR MARGINS OR THE GROWERS WILL NOT BE THERE ANY MORE!!!!!!!`


Following my outburst, Richard Budd added. I do not intend to farm at a loss, I have a family to support and I plan to pass this business on to my children, as my father did for me. I love growing apples, the orchards created by my father are special, BUT I WILL NOT CONTINUE PRODUCING APPLES AT A LOSS!!!!!!!




That is all for this week


Take care


The English Apple Man