Britain’s cider harvest got underway a month early yesterday – with 200,000 tonnes of apples set to be picked within the next ten weeks.
The growing season started early thanks to the warm spring weather and growers are expecting a bumper crop.
Nearly half of all apples grown in the UK are used to make cider and many thousands of acres of new orchards have been planted in the last 15 years to keep pace with the increasing demand for the drink.
Gabe Cook, spokesman for the National Association of Cider Makers (NACM), said an early harvest was an encouraging sign for the industry.
He said: ”The harvest has started earlier but then we saw an early blossom in spring.
”While cider makers are always happy to see the apples start to arrive, as an industry we track what happens and when to evaluate the impact of climate change as it presents real opportunities and risks to what we do.
”We are expecting a good harvest and we are especially pleased to see new orchards being harvested after the investment in planting and the time it takes to establish a new orchard."
Many new varieties of apple which have taken 25 years to breed are being harvested for the first time this year. The long-term project is being managed by NACM as part of ongoing research to improve the quality of apples available to cider makers.
Working on the project throughout has been Liz Copas, consultant pomologist to the NACM and a leading authority on cider apples.
One new variety has been named ‘Lizzy’ after the orcharding expert.
She said: ”Harvest is an important and exciting time but even more so given the time and effort invested to produce new varieties.
”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.
Some 29 new varieties of cider apple have been created following a selection and propagation process that started in 1984.
The new apple varieties have in the main been given female names – Lizzy, Amelia, Amanda, Jenny, Hastings, Connie, Helen’s Apple, Jane, Tina, Vicky, Naomi, Nicky; Angela, Gilly, Willy, Joanna, Maggie, Hannah, Jean, Sally, Fiona, Tracey, Eleni, Betty and Debbie.