UK soft fruit :
65% covered
with tunnels
Reasons for protecting soft fruit and other crops

1. Chemical reduction and organic production – soft fruit biggest enemy is botrytis, or mouldy fruit. Under tunnels, the fruit is kept dry and the disease nearly eliminated. This has resulted in significant reductions in

Increase yields
30 to 35% improved class one yield

Growers success story
Produce earlier and later crops

Polythene reduces glare
Massively reduce the reflective glare




Government's viewpont
The proposal for a local code of practice on the use of polytunnels seems sensible and could, potentially, be a helpful initiative.
Customer viewpoint
We as consumers can have better British soft fruit for longer than ever before. We now can enjoy the pleasure of eating British berries for approx 26 weeks, as opposed to only 5-6 weeks of season, which was the conventional period of cropping 20 years ago.

chemical usage and has also previously economicuntil the introduction of tunnels. Herefordshire leads Northern Europe inorganic enabled organic production. Organic soft fruit was not soft fruit production.

2. Fruit quality–customer demand – It is no longer realistic or economic to grow strawberries in the UK climate to the standards of reliability and quality demanded by customers without tunnel protection. All the major UK supermarkets now require their suppliers to protect their crops with tunnels, in order to guarantee quality fruit supply. Additionally on average saleable fruit increases from 50%-70% for open field strawberries to 80-90% for protected fruit. This is now the difference between having a prosperous business and going out of business, since labour costs are too great to afford picking of large percentages of low grade or unsaleable fruit.

Issue
Use of Tunnel
Impact of soft fruit
Earliness
Tunnels enclosed using side skirts, door ends and polythene closed for maximum earliness 2-3 weeks earlier with early season strawberries and raspberries
Season extension
Tunnel polythene drawn down to remove impact of rain Continued picking of autumn strawberries, raspberries through to late Oct.
Saleable yield of Class
one fruit
Tunnels enclosed in early season to protect blossom and reduce mis-shaped produce. Vents opened high on warm days to avoid soft growth Class one % improved from 55 - 70% to 80 - 90% for soft fruit compared to outdoor production
Yield
Crop environment managed through venting the tunnels to optimise temperature and humidity Class one yield budgeted over 30% better in soft berries
Pesticide usage
Significant reductions in moisture related diseases such as botrytis, downy mildew and black spot Very significant reductions in botrytis fungicide usage. Full organic production is also now possibleK
Weather protection
Guaranteed window to conduct production and harvest routines No stopping pickers when it rains!

3. Extended season import substitution - UK agriculture success – ten years ago British strawberries were only available for the short 6-week season in June and July. The development of tunnel systems has enabled British soft fruit to be successfully grown from early May to autumn. This has dramatically reduced the amount of imported soft fruit into the UK. British strawberries are consequently a very rare and often quoted success story in a depressed UK agriculture.

4. Continuity of supply and employment – UK consumers require reliable supply of food. Non-protected production of soft fruit is very unpredictable with summer rain preventing harvest, spoiling fruit and meaning that supermarket and grocery store shelves are empty. Protected production under tunnels enables both supply and work to be reliable and hence farm staff to be regularly employed.

5. Increase yields – protected soft fruit on average produces 30 to 35% improved class one yield versus out door non-protected production. This makes growing the crop sustainable and delivers lower costs to the consumer.


Some important facts about the UK soft fruit industry

  • The UK soft fruit industry receives no price support subsidies connected with other sectors of agriculture
  • Production is focussed in small farm units (the average soft fruit farm is typically only 50 acres).
  • The soft fruit industry is the most labour intensive in agriculture and is a very large employer with >5000 full time staff and >50,000 seasonal workers. This is of huge value to the economies of many rural areas including Herefordshire
  • The UK soft fruit industry is recognised as being one of the most innovative in the world. Its growers have a lower average age than in almost all other agricultural sectors.
  • Due to temporary tunnel protection the UK soft fruit industry has successfully managed to service its home market at a cost that is sustainable and has reduced foreign imports.
  • The UK’s major competitors in soft fruit production (Spain and California, USA) extensively use temporary poly tunnels and do not have to carry the cost or burden of applying for planning consent.

Important Issues about tunnels

  • Tunnels are temporary – they are usually rotated around different fields with each planted crop.
  • No permanent fixtures – tunnels have no permanent fixtures connected with their construction (i.e. concrete, foundations etc) The structure consists simply of metal legs pushed into the soil, with single hoops spanning the legs and polythene stretched over the metal hoops
  • Only covered in production months – In the off-season, covers are removed and polythene stored
  • Promote sustainable production – due to the fact that tunnels are moved with each crop, they are built into sustainable crop rotation systems. This reduces the features involved in mono cropping such as heavy reliance on pesticides.
  • No difference to polythene mulch – as far as impact on the landscape in horticultural areas, temporary poly tunnels have little more impact on the view than many thousands of hectares of plastic mulch used to cover vegetables and early potato crops which they are often confused with
  • Polythene is recycled – UK growers participate in a national polythene-recycling scheme. Polythene is collected from farm in one-meter square bales and transported to the recycling plant in Dumfries.

 
       
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