The new regulations introduced on 1 April 2016 are likely to increase the labour costs of soft fruit growers and potentially affect your profitability so what can you do about it?
Have you critically evaluated every crop, system and site that you grow and are you concentrating your efforts on those most likely to give both the greatest return and the best margin? Your staff will be more efficient if you do all that you can to make their work easier and focusing on the following could help:
Grow good quality fruit with no pest, disease or pollination defects that would slow down the harvest and reduce the return on your investment. AHDB has funded numerous projects on crop protection with this aim, the most recent and pertinent being:
- SF 062 'The epidemiology and control of strawberry powdery mildew under protection'
- SF 120 'Biological, semiochemical and selective chemical management methods for insecticide resistant western flower thrips on protected strawberry'
- SF 121 'Evaluation of products for control of crown rot in strawberry'
- SF 126 'Blueberry gall midge sex pheromone monitoring and control with insecticides'
- SF 133 'Optimising tarsonemid control on strawberry using predatory mites'
- SF 145 'Managing spotted wing drosophila in the UK'
Present fruit well so that pickers can do their job quickly, easily and well. Correct management of cane fruit production systems will improve the presentation of fruit to the pickers, help to maximise the yield potential of raspberries and blackberries and can improve fruit size and quality. See:
- Factsheet 12/06 'Cane management and training of field grown mainseason raspberries'
- Factsheet 01/09 'Cane management and training of field grown blackberries and hybrid berries'
Ensure that you are employing the best ‘Champion Picker’ and labour saving practices highlighted in:
- Project SF 071 'Reducing strawberry labour costs by increasing picking speeds and improving harvest efficiency'
- SF 89 'Lean production in soft fruit: a case study'
Reports on these projects are available on our website and the recommendations were distilled into the Champion Soft Fruit Picker Training DVD in a range of languages.
It is too late to implement for 2016 but in future seasons invest in high yielding varieties with large fruit and good grade-out. The recently released East Malling Strawberry Breeding Club main-season variety Malling Centenary and ever-bearer Malling Star (EMR 470) were bred with the aim of having >90% Class 1 fruit, >60% large fruit (>35mm), total Class 1 main-season yield of 20% more than Elsanta and a minimum of 1.2kg per plant for ever-bearers. These traits have translated into increased picking speeds and reduced labour costs. Further information about these is included in AHDB Horticulture Factsheet 05/13 'New varieties from The East Malling Strawberry Breeding Club'.
Similarly, efforts are being directed in the UK Raspberry Breeding Programme at the James Hutton Institute into producing higher yielding raspberry varieties with larger fruit size. The berry weight of the recently released variety Glen Dee (5.4g) and the advanced selections 0485K-1 (5.2g) and 0658C5 (6.7g) all compared favourably with Glen Ample (4.8g). In addition, 0658C5 produced higher yields than Glen Ample. Increased yields of larger fruit size are helping to increase picking speeds and reducing labour costs. Further information about the latest raspberry selections are available in:
- Factsheet 15/14 'New varieties and selections from the UK Raspberry Breeding Programme'
- Factsheet 10/15 'Raspberry variety trials – summer fruiting selections at JHI in 2014'
In addition to supporting these breeding programmes, we have also funded a series of strawberry and raspberry variety trials over the years to identify those which present fruit well to pickers, are quick and easy to pick and have high yields of Class 1 fruit. Most recently in strawberry, we have funded Projects:
- SF 128 'To assess the suitability and productivity of newly released June-bearing strawberry varieties and near-market selections in substrate culture'
- SF 128a 'To assess the performance of new June-bearing strawberry varieties and advanced selections in a commercial UK substrate production system over two harvest periods'
- SF 134 'The performance of new June-bearing strawberry varieties and advanced selections in raised soil beds'