As this year’s blackcurrant harvest ends, the British growers’ association, The Blackcurrant Foundation, reports on a challenging harvest season due to record-breaking UK temperatures.
The UK blackcurrant harvest started on July 3 in Somerset, where hopes were high for favourable weather conditions for the next six weeks. However, growers were not prepared to be faced with the unexpected dry and hot conditions which were to follow.
For the first time on record and during the peak of harvest, UK temperatures exceeded 40 degrees.
In addition, growers harvested through the driest July since 1911, resulting in a significant lack of moisture in the ground.
Harriet Prosser, agronomist at Suntory Beverage and Food GB&I, says: “It has been another challenging UK blackcurrant harvest, but for very different reasons.
“Last year we had frosts at flowering and a very wet harvest, this year we had a good spring but an incredibly hot dry summer.
“We have such a small window of opportunity to pick these juicy berries, and this year our growers experienced some of the highest temperatures ever recorded in the UK right in the middle of the harvest.
“They have gone above and beyond toiling away with several opting for night harvesting with lights to get the crop in quicker and make sure the blackcurrants didn’t spoil in the heat.”
The impact of these extreme conditions has been worse felt in the South East and East Anglian regions, but for other growers across the UK harvest has been relatively normal.
Ribena, which takes 90 per cent of the UK blackcurrant crop, is forecast to receive over 10,000 tonnes of fruit this summer.
Jo Hilditch, Chair and spokesperson for the Blackcurrant Foundation, comments: “A main concern was that berries were not able to cling on to the bushes and just fell to the ground before the harvesters came through.
“Our harvest still requires some manual labour, despite being a largely automated process thanks to machinery, and the heat made it much more difficult for pickers who started at 4.30am some mornings.
“Towards the end of the season some varieties suffered due to lack of winter chill, which made for some unevenly ripened fruit in some of the later loads that went to be pressed.”
But looking forward, thanks to funding from Lucozade Ribena Suntory, the Blackcurrant Foundation’s growers have been trialling new varieties of climate-resilient blackcurrants that aim to combat factors such as these prolonged dry spells, warm winters and extreme heat during summer.
Nearly £11 million of investment has so far aided research and development into new varieties, with some harvested this year which have been 20 years in the making.
Hopefully this will safeguard the future of the crop and help secure the livelihoods of UK blackcurrant growers.
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