History being made as English apricot industry starts up

It’s taken several years of careful preparation but 2014 will go down in agricultural history as the year that the UK got its own apricot industry.

While very small amounts of English grown apricots have appeared on supermarket shelves over the last few years this is the first time that any substantial volume has been available.

For the next six weeks fruit lovers will be able to buy 15 tonnes of high quality apricots grown near Staplehurst, Kent in the heart of the garden of England in 200 Tesco stores across the UK.

But even better news is that, weather permitting, by next year production could be up to 100 tonnes.

The arrival of the English variety should be heralded as good news by British shoppers who in the last year bought 18 per cent more apricots than the previous year, according to latest data from retail analysts Kantar.

Besides the more intense flavour of the English grown variety there is another good reason to cheer the arrival of homegrown apricots as the British growing season will allow production to be taken into September – a time when no other country in the world produces apricots.

Tesco lead fruit development manager Natalie Slack said: “Not only do British shoppers enjoy arguably the best strawberries, cherries, apples and pears in the world grown here in the UK but soon we could also have an apricot industry to rival that of France.

“Until a few years ago it was near impossible to grow apricots in the UK because of the climate but with the selection of the right varieties and pruning of the trees to suit our weather as well as Nigel’s tenacity as a grower this existing project has been made possible.

“And ironically the cooler British night time temperature is set to produce very high quality apricots as the fruit grows more slowly resulting in a more intense taste and stronger, richer colour.”

Tesco started working on the project with one of the UK’s biggest stone fruit growers, Nigel Bardsley, five years ago with view to launching major scale English apricot production.

Nigel, a Tesco supplier for 25 years, enlisted a team of experts comprising breeders, agronomists and growers to create a production plan which culminated in the planting of eight hectares of orange fleshed, French type apricots.

After visiting French growers a few years ago Nigel planted 5000 apricot trees across eight hectares of land and the first fruit from his orchards will started arriving in Tesco stores this last week.

Nigel Bardsley (pictured) said: “There is a growing demand for apricots here in Britain and if all goes well by next year I should see a return of 100 tonnes in the next two to three years an annual crop return of about 400 tonnes.

“When I heard about the new apricot cultivars that were available I jumped at the chance of getting these. The fruit we had before flowered too early, in March, when it was still too cold. It was far too risky which is why no one ever tried to grow them on a commercial basis.

“Generally, the British weather pattern has changed over the last few years and we now tend to be getting milder winters and later springs which suits apricot production.

“And because production will go into September then for the first time ever we may soon have France, Spain, Portugal and other countries around the world buying apricots from Britain.”

Source - Tesco plc