268856_1 BRITAIN’S cider harvest is getting underway a month early – with 200,000 tons of apples set to be picked in the next 10 weeks.

The growing season started early, thanks to a warm spring, and growers are expecting a bumper crop.

Nearly half of all apples grown in the UK are used to make cider. Many thousands of acres of new orchards have been planted in the past 15 years to keep pace with the increasing demand.

Gabe Cook, spokesman for the National Association of Cider Makers, said an early harvest is an encouraging sign for the industry. He said: “We are expecting a good harvest and we are especially pleased to see new orchards being harvested.”

Some 29 new varieties of cider apple are being gathered in for the first time this year.

There is a royal connection with one variety named Prince William. Many have been given girls’ names including Amelia, Jenny, Katy, Tina and Lizzy.

The Lizzy variety is named after Liz Copas, a leading authority on cider apples, who has been working on a long-term project with NACM to improve the quality of apples available to cider makers. She said: “We hope to prove that the new fruit offers growers and cider makers the best combination of juice quality and high yields whilst requiring limited intervention during the growing season.”

One trial site is managed by Thatchers Cider near Sandford, south of Bristol. Other orchards involved in the work are at Perrins Hill Farm, Tintinhull, Somerset, and Bulmers orchard at Staunton, Hereford.

It can take up to five years for new orchards to produce apples and it is typically 10 years before the grower will break even.

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