The miracle of the
20-week strawberry season
The UK strawberry
industry is expected to smash its sales record this year by £50m, a
record it only set last year. What's behind the blooming strawberry?
In 1990 the British strawberry season lasted about six weeks. Now it
typically stretches from May to October - about 20 weeks.
And that's just the official season, which marks the point when
supermarkets are stocked 100% with British strawberries - replacing
foreign imports from the likes of Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Spain.
These countries have an inherent advantage over the UK - a warmer,
But British strawberry growers have been innovatively trying to squeeze
every last strawberry from the UK's unpredictable climate. And last year
there were still British strawberries on the shelves in December for the
Growers predict 2015 will be even better. Strawberries are expected to
fetch £325m this year, easily beating 2014's record total of £275m,
according to British Summer Fruits (BSF), which represents 98% of berry
growers that supply supermarkets.
They estimate that 76,000 tonnes will be produced this year - a
12,000-tonne increase on last year alone - while production has
increased by 36% in the past five years, according to the BSF.
The principal reason for this is both clear and controversial -
polytunnels. These flexible greenhouses - with their curved metal
girders and polythene covers - have spread out over large swathes of the
In 1990 there were none. Now they account for some 95% of all berries
grown outdoors, says Laurence Olins, chairman of BSF.
The tunnels are far from universally adored. Locals have fought numerous
battles against their introduction, mainly criticising them for blotting
But while they'll rarely win beauty contests, they've had a massive
impact on strawberries.
"Polytunnels are like putting an umbrella over a crop - [it] protects
the crop from pests, diseases, rain and climate [damage]," Olins
It's also warmer than outside by several degrees, he adds, accelerating
plant growth. "You can put bees in there for pollination, you can put
predator insects in there to eat pests - it's a controlled climate
without artificial heat or light."
Strawberry farmer Paul Kelsey first installed the tunnels on his
19.5-hectare farm in Kent about six years ago. All 600 tonnes he
produces on his medium-sized farm every season are grown under them.
"They have been the single biggest driver of the strawberry industry's
growth," he says.
There have been other innovations too.
"When I first started growing 30 years ago we were planting straight
into the soil with nothing around it," says Kelsey.
Now he grows them at waist level, known as "table top" production, says
Kelsey. It accounts for about 30-40% of the industry, Olins says, and
mainly suits those who, like Kelsey, don't have enough space to rotate
their crops on different fields.
The modern strawberry only emerged when it was bred with a South
American species brought back by a French spy after a visit to Chile in
Strawberries are planted in suspended grow bags, often using something
called coconut coir. It's a natural fibre taken from the husk of a
coconut, which is then compressed into compost that has good water
The table tops make it easier for strawberry pickers, allowing them to
stand rather than bend and kneel, which also makes them more productive,
Having read the above article I wanted to try and find our how Canada
was doing with this fruit and so this is what I found...
Canada is home to some
of the best berry-growing conditions on earth, not to mention our
farmers are tops for environmental responsibility. But how are local
Canadian strawberry growers doing these days anyway?
Not too good. Coupled with a short growing season - lasting roughly one
month - the farmer has only a small window of a couple of days to
harvest the ripe fruit and get it to market before the delicate
strawberry flesh turns to mush.
On the other hand, Californiaís climate allows for year Ďround growing,
and itís not just the berries that are growing.
Every year, the California strawberry industry expands too. It now
produces about 1 billion kilograms of berries per year. According to
Kevin Schooley of the Ontario Berry Growers Association, the average
strawberry patch in Southern Ontario is four hectares, while in
California they can span up to 20.
And they out-yield us too: 34,000 kilos to 2,000 kilos per hectare. Itís
a David and Goliath story to be sure. But like David and his slingshot,
consumers can pack a powerful wallop. Local produce is the best. Seek it
out, demand it, and savour it.
Strawberries are grown in all provinces of Canada with the largest areas
of production in Quebec (36%), Ontario (32%), British Columbia (15%) and
Nova Scotia (8%). Most strawberries in Canada are June-bearing varieties
picked in June and July, but there is some production of day-neutral
varieties, which have a longer harvest season.
The Crop Profile for Strawberry provides an overview of strawberry
production and pest management in Canada. Information is provided on
abiotic factors affecting its growth. The biology of key disease, insect
and mite and weed problems is presented as well as cultural, chemical
and alternative methods of control. Detailed information is provided in
tabular form on pest occurrence, integrated pest management options and
registered pesticides available to growers.
Grower issues/gaps in pest management, identified through stakeholder
consultations are described in each of the three main sections (disease,
insect and mite and weed) and under each pest description. Research
contacts and sources of additional information are listed at the end of
A Crop Profile for
Strawberry in Canada for April 2005 is available as a pdf document at:
Annual Production is
24,521 metric tonnes with a value of $53 million.
Now if you compare this
to the UK report above you'll see that there is tremendous opportunity
within Canada if we adopt the poly tunnel approach.