Warm spring set to boost strawberry crop, say growers
The warm spring has led to the biggest and best quality English strawberry crop in about two decades, growers say.
One of England's largest strawberry farmers, R and V Emery, said their production yield was up by 150% on recent years.
It also said increased sugar levels had made the current crop much sweeter and juicier than normal.
Tesco has taken far more English strawberries than normal and cut foreign imports by 50% as a result.
Laurence Olins, chairman of British Summer Fruits, which represents growers, said this week last year members sent 400 tonnes of British strawberries to supermarkets.
"This week, we expect them to send four times that amount which will be the largest amount ever for this time of year," he said.
Vernon Emery, who runs R and V Emery with his brother Richard in Hampshire, said the English strawberry season has witnessed its earliest start for about 20 years.
He said the company could be heading for a record year.
"The extra warmth has helped boost sugar levels but equally important have been good levels of light which have helped the fruit set and encouraged bees to pollinate the plants.
"The great weather has also been consistent without dips in temperature which would have hampered the quality," he said.
Last month was the UK's warmest April on record and saw only a fifth of the expected rainfall in England and Wales.
Paul Jones, strawberry buyer for Tesco, said the weather had created an "abundance of top quality, sweeter than normal English strawberries - of the standard normally associated with Wimbledon fortnight".
He said the supermarket would be selling predominantly English strawberries, rather than Spanish imports, and this will keep prices down.
And those worried that a bumper crop now will mean no strawberries in time for the Wimbledon championship can be rest assured, said supplier Nick Marston of Berry Gardens.
The geographical spread of strawberry growing in the UK means a steady supply until October.
"We have got a nice early start," he said. "Once we've got that, it should see us right the way through.
"I've got no worries for Wimbledon."