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Soft fruit farmers count the cost of worst season ever

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: August 30, 2012

  • Fruit farmers have lost thousands of pounds to the rain Picture: Richard Austin

  • Farmer Neil Hawken with his weather-damaged Pick-Your-Own strawberries Picture Richard Austin

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Strawberry crops have been wiped out at Westcountry pick-your-own farms by the wet summer weather, with owners branding it the "absolute worst season ever".

Soft fruit farmers watched as crops lay unpicked and rotting as visitors stayed away during the incessant downpour over recent months.

Devon and Cornwall endured the wettest April to June on record and while strawberries grown in protective polytunnels survived, those in the fields did not.

However, while strawberries took a hammering, raspberries, which flourish in damp weather, are continuing to do well.

Neil Hawken, of Pips Pick-Your-Own at Kitley Farm, Yealmpton, South Devon, said he lost thousands of pounds because the bad weather put visitors off.

He said: "This has been the absolute worst season ever.

"June is strawberry time for us and we had the wettest June on record with no let-up.

"We were standing there looking at £6,000 worth of crop going to waste because no-one was coming to pick it. And you can't take wet fruit to market."

Mr Hawken said although the raspberry crop was doing well, with the end of the summer holidays in sight he was doubtful there would be enough visitors to collect it.

He said: "It's been a very hard year for us, there's no doubt about that."

At Shute Farm on Newton Road, Bishopsteignton, Lori Reich, who owns the site with husband David Lamboll, said their strawberry crop was also decimated because of wet conditions.

She said: "We didn't have a very good crop last year and this year we lost it because of the weather.

"No-one wants to stand out in a rain-soaked field collecting wet fruit. Visitor numbers are very weather-dependent."

But she added: "Our raspberries are thriving because they love the miserable weather and do well in damp conditions. They're red now and will be available until the end of October."

For some farmers the strawberry season will stretch into the autumn.

Maralyn Curnow, who owns The Grange Fruit Farm at Gweek near Helston, agreed some visitors had been deterred by the poor weather.

She said: "Like a lot of places, our strawberries are covered under polytunnels.

"People have been coming, but not as many as when the weather is good.

"Strawberries are associated with nice, sunny days and not rain. We replant as we go along, so we'll still have strawberries by October if we get a late summer – that might draw customers out."

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