UK's second largest apple grower bought for £15.7 million

Kent-based global agriculture business Camellia has bought the UK’s second largest apple grower for £15.7 million.

Established in 1892, family firm Bardsley England - based at headquarters in River Farm at Boughton Monchelsea - has grown over five generations and now includes farms near Maidstone, Chartham and Bridge near Canterbury.

New owners Camellia, based at Linton, near Maidstone, will also loan the business £9.3 million for further investment.

Bardsley grows nearly 18,000 tonnes of fruit a year in 27 orchards covering 2,100 acres in Kent, producing apples, pears, apricots, plums and grapes for UK supermarkets and employing 550 staff during the peak picking season.

The company is also an innovator in the use of agritech, employing technology such as micro-climate sensors to monitor for adverse weather and wet leaf sensors to give early indication of pests and disease.

It also uses a combination of trailer-mounted machine vision devices and remote satellite technology to improve yield predictions and crop management.

In addition to strengthening Bardsley’s balance sheet, the investment by Camellia will support growth and ensure the business is able to invest further in developing its packing operations and extending its orchards.

PA reports Camellia recently announced it would suffer a £1 million reduction in operating profit this year as a result of bad weather conditions in northern India and Bangladesh where it grows tea.

Its tea plantations in Kenya have performed better but Covid-19 restrictions have also restricted the company in the past year.

The deal with Bardsley includes a £12.7 million payment upfront and a further £3 million in July next year.

Bardsley made a loss before tax of £1.7 million in the year to March 31 with net assets of £8.3 million.

Tom Franks, chief executive of Camellia, said: “We have been looking for some time to increase our focus on agriculture where we have deep skills, and to increase our operations in the UK. Bardsley helps with both. It is located close to our HQ in Kent, which is the premier region for apple growing in the country. We look forward to partnering with the Bardsley family in the future.”

A statement from Bardsley added: "Bardsley England have raised £18.9m of growth capital to maintain our investment in both the packhouse and farming operation to ensure the business rests in the top tier of the fresh produce industry and continues to spearhead development and technology for future growth.

"The Bardsley family have also used this as an opportunity to simplify the ownership structure by reducing their stake in the business. Ben Bardsley remains as a major shareholder and CEO of Bardsley England for the foreseeable future.