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Cider makers warn of worst harvest for at least 30 years

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 19, 2012

Not many apples on the trees this year... Cider maker Roger Wilkins, here in his sparse orchard in Somerset, says it's the worst harvest for 30 years

Not many apples on the trees this year... Cider maker Roger Wilkins, here in his sparse orchard in Somerset, says it's the worst harvest for 30 years

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A well-known Westcountry cider maker is cutting his production by half this year because of what he describes as the worst apple crop in 30 years.

Roger Wilkins, a third generation cider maker on the Somerset Levels, says this year's harvest is likely to be the smallest since 1982.

"We knew it was going to be bad back in the spring – but not this bad," said Mr Wilkins, who has been making cider at Mudgeley near Glastonbury all his working life.

"We had a bumper crop last year, and it's only nature – the trees will have a rest. But this year something else happened – we had what my grandfather used to call a 'false-blossom'."

Mr Wilkins explained: "That's when leaves come on the trees before the blossom and grandfather always used to say when the leaves came first the blossom wouldn't set and would fall off. Then you don't get any fruit.

"We had some trees that didn't even blossom until June this year – normally it would be out in April and the beginning of May. Then the summer was absolute rubbish weather-wise and there were no bees."

Ironically, Mr Wilkins says he will be able to cater for demand – thanks to the same bad summer weather which has spoilt the present crop…

"This year we haven't sold as much cider because the weather's been so bad – in June and July every sort of weekend fair and festival that we do were all rained off or cancelled – or they've only sold half the cider we normally sell. I let them have it on a sale-or-return basis. This year a lot of them were only ordering half what they normally have – then half of that was coming back here unsold.

"I'm probably 7,000 gallons down this summer on sales – so what we've left over will carry us through until Christmas time."

So how much cider will Mr Wilkins be hoping to make this year?

"I normally make 20,000 gallons but I'm looking at 10,000 maybe 12,000 if we're lucky. That's half what we'd do usually. And I'm going to be struggling to make that. The quality will be all right but the apples are smaller this time – the ones that have grown aren't anywhere near the size they get to normally, but I suppose they've got a month or so yet…"

Throughout the region apple growers and cider-makers are complaining about the worst apple yield in years – and they are being joined by gardeners across the peninsula. Many blame the appalling summer weather which discouraged the bees from flying during the crucial pollination periods.

Adrian Barlow – chief executive of the industry organisation, English Apples and Pears – said: "It is going to be a tough time not only in the UK but across Europe." He said the crop nationally was likely to be the worst since 1997 which was affected by frost.

Paul Bartlett, the chair of the National Association of Cider Makers, said they were resilient, but added: "The increasing incidence of extreme weather have really buffeted our industry."

Growers of eating apples in many areas are predicting that harvesting will get under way three weeks later than usual – and some retailers are said to be already reducing quality specifications saying they will accept fruit with more skin markings than normal. However, prices are likely to rise.

Mr Wilkins – whose remote cider-farm perched above the Levels draws thousands of visitors each year including many top name celebrities – told the Western Morning News: "We try to keep the prices down – it's not a bad drop for what it costs (about £8 a gallon). It's just that we'll only be doing half as much as normal – which I suppose will mean less work for me."

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