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SOFT FRUIT SECTOR GETTING BACK ON TRACK

Richard Lochhead has travelled to the Mitchell family’s farm at Castleton, Laurencekirk today (Wednesday 1 June) to see the damage caused by last week’s storms to Scotland’s valuable soft fruit sector first hand. NFU Scotland took the opportunity to speak with Mr Lochhead about a number of points they believe could help this vital Scottish industry continue to flourish in future.

The Scottish soft fruit industry has played a growing part in the wider food and horticulture success story for Scotland. The wide spread reputation for quality fruit and vegetables has taken the combined output of Scottish horticulture to a value of more than £240 million annually.

Mr Ross Mitchell, who hosted Mr Lochhead’s visit, said:

“It’s been a tough week since last week’s storm - no doubt about that - but we’re starting to see some real progress with repairs to the polytunnels here at Castleton.  I imagine that in two to three weeks we should be back to where we were in getting our fruit under cover, and then it’s just a matter of playing catch up with regards to harvesting the fruit.  

“Fortunately, we’re feeling confident that we will be able to keep up our levels of supply, and certainly the retailers we work with are happy that the quality of the product has been maintained and that customers won’t see or taste any difference, or notice any shortages.

“The reality of farming I suppose is that these freak occurrences do happen, but it would be good if the risks that we have to take as growers were appreciated, and appropriately recognised by the supply chain, which isn’t always the case.

“We are delighted to host the Cabinet Secretary today, but do wish it could have been under more favourable circumstances.
 
Speaking from the Mitchells’ farm, Allan Bowie, NFUS Vice-President, said:
 
“As we move into the Scottish berry season, the importance of keeping this part of the industry up and running is huge. Last week’s storms undoubtedly caused havoc for soft fruit farmers in Scotland, but one week on and the repairs are well under way and farmers are confident that interruption to the supply of berries into stores will be minimal.

“High winds caused the majority of damage on farm, particularly to the plastic sheeting and steel structures of polytunnels. The consequence is that these will need to be replaced, with responsibility for that falling on individual farm businesses. Insurance for these structures is prohibitive due to their classification as temporary. 

“The good news is that disruption to marketing has been at a low level and we understand from the British Retail Consortium that its supermarket members will take ripe and undamaged fruit, whether that fruit has been under shelter or not.  Providing an appropriate price is paid, that commitment is particularly welcome as this had been a cause for concern for many soft fruit farmers. As we had hoped, the criteria for accepting fruit will continue to be based on quality, not on whether it has been under cover. 

“The true cost of the storms is emerging and today’s visit presented a good opportunity to show Mr Lochhead the commitment of the sector, the extent of the damage done last week, and to press him on number of areas – chiefly around employment and taxation - where we believe the Scottish Government could be of assistance to those involved in delivering the Scottish soft fruit success story.”

Ends

Notes to editors
Ross Mitchell farms with his parents Murray and Rhoda in a family team that runs 710 acres of arable and fruit production at Castleton Farm, near Laurencekirk, in the area known as the “Howe of the Mearns”. Located between Dundee and Aberdeen.
This family run business is one of the most northerly berry growers to supply multiple retailers in a season spanning May to November.
Their northern location gives them a cool Scottish summer providing the right growing conditions for berry production.
Their hard work & commitment to producing the very best berries was rewarded by them winning "Soft Fruit Grower of the Year Award" in 2009.

Damage to the unit as a result of recent high winds:
• Of 120 acres of tunnels on farm, 60 acres received varying degrees of steel damage
• A further 20 acres had plastic only damage
• Damage to structures steel and plastic is estimated to cost in the region of £150,000
• Labour to fix the damage is estimated to cost over £100,000
• Crop damage is varying from field and crop stage but ranges from very little damage where plants were smaller, to up to 30% of some crops.

The farm: -
 The total farm area is 710 acres and is split between soft fruit, arable rotation, potatoes and vining peas.
 167 acres of soft fruit is grown of which 90 acres is on rented ground.
 Soft fruit crops are Strawberries - 110 acres, Raspberries – 17 acres, Blueberries – 40 acres
 A trial of 5 acres of cherries have been planted.
 In 2011, 4,000,000 punnets of soft fruit will be packed and sent for the fresh market.
 Castleton’s main customers are Marks and Spencer’s and Tesco.

Further information available from Wendy Fleming on 0131 472 4020

Date Published:

News Article No.: 96/11


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