High tunnel protection lifts crop volumes The English strawberry crop is expected to peak in the same week as the Wimbledon Tennis Championships get under way, said Nicholas Marsden, md of Kentish Garden, the UK's largest specialist soft fruit cooperative. This year it is expecting to market some 7,000 tonnes, as well as 3,000 tonnes of raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries and currants. At a press lunch amid the Kent crop, prior to the celebration of Strawberry Day on June 15, Marsden said that while cooler weather had delayed picking, this in fact could benefit sales. He discounted any fears this would mean regional supplies would telescope out later in the year. The organisation is also expecting to harvest more fruit because of a massive investment by members in high tunnel production which provides weather protection and allows the season to start a fortnight earlier. "Our production is expected to increase this season by 20%," Marsden added. Part of this growth will come from conversion by apple growers who are finding it harder to cover costs. Last year Kent grower Alan Firmin (Linton) grubbed out Bramley orchards and replaced them with 32 acres of Elsanta much of which is grown using the tabletop method that uses vast plastic tunnels with plants suspended above the ground on metal trellises. Farm manager Angus Coates estimates investment is more than £8,000 per acre and fruit needs to return an average of around £3.20/kg. Marsden says the British soft fruit industry can benefit from extra production as multiples have confirmed they prefer selling the national crop, which is presented to a higher standard than imports. There is also additional impetus as he estimates multiples still only have a 65% share of the market, although they account for 80% of total fruit and vegetable sales. They are also generally prepared to pay more than the wholesale markets for top quality fruit. Current best strawberries in New Covent Garden are making £1/lb. {{FRESH PRODUCE }}