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Warning of UK cider drought as flood hit apple orchards

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: March 26, 2014

  • Trees in Somerset are reflected in flood water during the flooding event at the beginning of 2014.

  • A small orchard in Somerset which was swamped by the flooding event at the beginning of 2014.

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Cider experts have warned that winter flooding has wiped out acres of orchards leaving the UK facing a drought.

The damp weather has meant that many of the million apple trees planted over the past decade in an attempt to restore one of the UK's native crops will be lost.

Farmers across the Westcountry now face an agonising wait until May to see if the water has destroyed their livelihoods, or if the fruit will defy odds and blossom.

Julian Temperley, one of Somerset's most renowned growers, said it was hard to remain upbeat and described his 170 acres as "touch and go".

"We've had an appalling late December, January and February - trees over the whole of the South West have taken a hammering," Julian, from Martock, Somerset, said.

"There's certainly a big worry about waterlogged trees - there will be a considerable number dying.

"We have one orchard that's been under a foot of water. I'm not certain if the trees will survive."

Just 14 days underwater can destroy an apple tree's root system, a time limit easily passed this winter.

It is believed that a huge proportion of the UK's 17,300 acres of cider orchards may have been ruined by the rain and floods.

Despite a fortnight of recent intermittent sunshine, which has seen some fruit trees blossom in earnest, - with fruit already set - growers have warned there is no guarantee of success.

The crisis has prompted the National Association of Cider Makers to prepare for the worst, and issue a stark warning crops may not live up to expectations for the next few years.

Paul Bartlett, chairman, said: "We hope for the best though recognise that the potential impact could seriously affect the income of growers this season and for several years to come."

The devastation has worried companies such as Bulmers, the world's largest producer of cider, which takes 90 per cent of its apples from local orchards.

And the weather could spark a second year of worry for grower Kier Rogers, who last year lost hundreds of trees through groundwater flooding, after prolonged rain made drainage impossible.

Kier, from Herefordshire, said: "We've had surface water here since the end of December when it started raining - and that causes me great concern - I don't know what the long-term effects will be on the trees, and the damage we will see this year."

There are around 480 cider-makers across the country and the traditional trade plays a crucial role in the UK's rural economy and communities.

Cider drinking in Britain is on the increase with around 1.5 billion pints downed each year.

The industry is worth £3 billion and rising and cider and perry account for nine per cent of all alcohol consumed nationally.

The picture paints a direct contrast to last year when the cider industry was toasting its best harvest in a decade.

The weather over 2013 created ideal conditions for a tasty, bumper apple crop and led to a huge jump in profits.

Just ten years ago the cider industry used 110,000 tonnes of UK-grown apples but now the figure has more than doubled to 250,000 tonnes.

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