Science & Environment

Apples and pears shaping up to enjoy strong harvest

Orchard (Image: BBC)
Image caption Last year's poor summer hit UK fruit growers, especially orchard owners, very hard

UK fruit growers could enjoy a much improved harvest of apples and pears this year, after 2012's growing season saw a dismal outcome, experts believe.

Environmental consultancy ADAS UK says the recent cold weather, a key part of a successful fruit harvest, could see fruit-filled branches in the autumn.

Poor weather conditions during 2012 saw British fruit yields down by up to 50%.

However, the prolonged cold weather this year has not helped cereal growers, who face another tough year.

An assessment by ADAS suggested that the growing season was about eight weeks late, but the recent warming has seen it reduce this deficit to about three to four weeks.

"We are hopeful of a good harvest this year as long as this reasonable weather keeps up during flowering," said ADAS horticultural consultant Chris Creed.

The return of cold weather in some parts of the country, which have experienced ground frost, is not likely to jeopardise this, he said.

Crunch time

But he said that there would be concern if there was air frost (when the air temperature 1.25m above the ground fell to 0C (32F) or below).

"We don't want an air frost, and we certainly do not want it falling beneath -2C," he told BBC News.

"Kent, Worcestershire and Herefordshire are probably through this period now, so the crop should be set.

Image caption Apple harvests are dependent on pollinators, such as hoverflies

"I would have thought they have got away with it because I do not remember hearing of any serious air frost in the past 14 days."

Apple trees are generally in blossom for about 14 days, during which time the flowers are pollinated - primarily by wild bees and hoverflies.

Most varieties will not produce any apples unless they are pollinated, and pollinated with pollen from a different variety of apple tree so it is important that the trees are in flower at the same time.

Mr Creed said that a bumper harvest depended on a number of natural milestones being achieved over the course of 12 months.

"We are looking for a good autumn that initiates plenty of flowers, so we want a sunny, dry autumn, and then we want a nice cold period during the winter," he said.

"We have had plenty of cold this season. Then we want a good fortnight [during the spring] with no air frost when the blossom is out, it's pretty simple really.

He added that conditions last year were "absolutely diabolical" while apple trees were in flower.

"And during the summer we would like some proper growing weather," Mr Creed said.

"Proper growing weather during May is some showers and warm nights, ideally double figure nights above 10C, and no drought during June, July and August."

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