Great apples but supply chain hampered by severe bottlenecks

Robert Rendall is a third-generation fruit farmer from Boxford. He says the unique climate we've seen so far this year has greatly improved the quality of the apples produced.

"In between the showers, we're experiencing relatively warm day temperatures and nice, cold night temperatures. What that's doing is ripening the fruit in a really lovely way.

"The day-night temperature variation has meant that we're getting excellent flavour and rich colour in the apples this year", he adds.

Growers across the country have seen higher quality yields but that hasn't been replicated in quantity. Mr. Rendall "Even though the season is great for texture and crispness, certain regions in the country have been hit hard by early frost and lower light levels earlier in the season. So certain varieties have been hit hard"

"I think we're looking at a fairly reduced crop this year as a country and not really in line with the growth we've planned", he adds.

The industry has also been hit hard by shortages of seasonal staff and HGV drivers that the rest of the economy is grappling with. Mr. Rendall, as indeed many farmers across the UK, is calling for temporary visas to be issued to allow foreign labour to enter and help with picking the fruit.

"Now where we don't have enough of a work-force that is not interested in seasonal work, because fruit-picking is seasonal work and not a career, it seems short-sighted to artificially restrict that industry. Let's get the crop harvested and get the fruit in the stores", he says.

The shortage of drivers to transport the fruit has also posed many challenges for growers. Mr. Rendall says, "In terms of logistics, it's been a real challenge. We've had to get our competitors and even friends working together to get fruit to supermarket shelves."

"We're having to open up different transport routes that we didn't use before to get the fruit collected. It's been really taxing", he adds.

But it is not all doom and gloom in the sector. A new report, from the Royal Agricultural University, has revealed that around 93% of growers use biodiversity measures to protect the ecosystem. The same report also states that 63% of apple farmers have solar panels to generate renewable energy

Mr. Rendall says his farm can also lay various claims to be sustainable: "We generate zero food waste, and any fruit that is out-graded but still fit for consumption is made into juice on site. Fruit that is not fit for consumption goes to an anaerobic digestion plant that is also on the property."

"We recycle water from our farm, so we're self-sufficient on water. We also have solar panels and produce as much green energy as we consume", he adds.

The report from the Royal Agricultural Society also stated that growers plan to plant 3 million new trees over the next five years. Mr. Rendall says, "I think UK apple industry has a really positive story to tell and we're well on our way to becoming carbon neutral."

"I think we are one of the solutions to help the UK achieve net-zero as well, because of the sheer volume of the trees we're going to be planting," he concludes.