Sun delivers early apple harvest
A spot of fine British weather is helping deliver an early apple harvest with growers promising shoppers a crop with "great crunchiness and lots of taste" across the board.
This year's apple harvest is set to start three weeks earlier than 2013, with early varieties already ripe for the picking, according to trade association English Apples & Pears.
While shoppers will have to wait until mid-September to see more popular varieties like Gala on the supermarket shelves, that is still set to come about a week earlier than average.
Adrian Barlow, chief executive of English Apples & Pears, said earlier croppers like Discovery had already started reaching the shelves of independent retailers by last week.
The mild spring and warmer sunny weather has meant good news for all types of growers, with stone fruit like plums and cherries, and pears all doing well.
Mr Barlow said the conditions had been kinder to apples than the last couple of years, which had been beset with poor weather, but it was too early to make comparison's with 2011's peak.
"Last year we had a very late crop, and we lost three to four weeks of varieties not being on the shelf at the supermarket so we lost that shelf space, and that made life difficult.
"But this year, all told, things are looking very promising for the coming season.
"Quality is extremely good, we've had a lot of sunny weather, meaning taste will be very good, and the texture and colour will be extremely good.
"As far as the shopper is concerned they'll be very happy with the eating quality.
"The apples will have great crunchiness, lots of taste, and a good size."
Early varieties set to appear on shop shelves include Galmac, Delbar Estival, followed by Worcester Pearmain.
Mr Barlow said chefs' favourite the Bramley apple was also "looking good", adding "people will enjoy cooking with that variety this autumn".
At Stocks Farm in Suckley near Malvern in Worcestershire, the Capper family grow 100 acres of apples some of which go to supply HP Bulmer and are also used in the manufacture of Magners cider.
However, the majority of their modern and mechanised apple growing operation is dedicated to dessert or eating apple varieties; top-selling Gala, popular Braeburn, and locally-discovered Red Windsor.
All are late cropping and picked in September, but the farm hands are already out among the long rows of heavily-laden apple trees carrying out a "late thinning" - a commonplace industry practice where some of the fruit is taken off the tree to ensure healthier long-term growth.
Alison Capper who runs the farm with husband Richard just a few miles from the rolling Malvern Hills, said: "On the whole it's looking like a really nice crop and it's all down to the weather.
"We've had lovely weather, we've had rain when we've wanted it, although some parts of the country have been drier than we'd have wanted.
"We've had some disease pressures which we always get with our climate, which might mean the skins aren't absolutely perfect in some cases.
"But generally-speaking, the crunch is going to be juicy and delicious."
She added the season was on track to be a "good average", but growers would be more than happy with such a result following the "tough conditions" which led to last year's late crop, which hit the industry in its pocket, and the "wettest year on record" in 2012.
Mrs Capper also said that UK consumers should be confident that British apples were among the best globally for standards of sustainable growing practices.
She added: "So, when the consumer is making a choice between British, American, South African, New Zealand or South American, the British apple is the one that's least likely to have had as much irrigation, and it will have been produced to some of the highest farm standards in the world.
"When you're standing in the supermarket trying to make a choice, British is the best choice you can make."