The English Apple Man attends this year's Gala Club meeting at Sean Charlton's Farm
Each year the Gala Club hold a pre-harvest meeting to preview the prospects for the season ahead.
Below: Gala Club Chairman - Peter Checkley
Peter Checkley set the scene for the 2015 harvest
One of Gala's many attributes is consistency ~ consumers know what they are going to get because the format is the same where ever in the world they are grown.
Of all the varieties, Gala, seems particularly suited to our often turbulent climate and year after year we can produce a consistent product that the consumers can rely on.
In 2015 it has all come together. Good weather at blossom, higher than average sunshine, good weather for combating pests and diseases, and a well-timed inch of rain at the end of July, have all come together to produce a good clean crop that will be well coloured of good size and high in sugar.
Indications suggest the UK Gala crop in 2015 will break previous records; the total Gala crop is expected to exceed 54,000 tonnes an increase of 6% on 2014.
Of critical importance to UK Gala growers will be the financial returns for the coming season. Last year the Russian embargo against imports from EU countries into Russia caused significant challenges for exporters. While the UK is a net importer, the large volume producers in Europe depend heavily on exports; an imbalance in Europe influences UK prices.
The 2015 Gala Club pre-harvest meeting was held at Sean Charlton's Fair View Farm at Loose on the outskirts of Maidstone in Kent.
Below: Sean Charlton
The turnout for the evening was in excess of 70; blessed with a beautiful September evening Sean Charlton welcomed Gala Club members and delivered an overview of his business. The business is named after George Charlton and Sean is the fourth generation to farm Rumwood Green Farm. The business has expanded exponentially during Sean's tenure and now operates on 10 sites around the Maidstone area.
Sean farms a total area of 800 acres (he prefers to talk in acres rather than hectares) of which 300 acres are Apples, 170 acres of Strawberries on table tops, 30 acres of Raspberries and 30 acres of Cherries.
In 2003 he grew just 25 acres of Gala; Mondial Gala but with the development of improved Gala sports with better red colour, Sean has now extended the Gala area to 250 acres.
The acreage at Fair View Farm is circa 45 (19 hectares) and the Gala sports are Galaxie, Schniga, Buckeye and Royal Beaut. This allows a harvest period of 4 weeks to pick all the Gala; each orchard will be picked over 2-3 times to maximise quality & colour.
Planting distances are 3.5 metres between the rows, with tree spacing from 0.8 metre - 1 metre.
Below: A Gala orchard at Fair View Farm
The subject of tree spacing and tree height and the influence on light interception are always discussed when apple growers gather in an orchard (especially someone else's) - also the practicalities of picking fruit out of reach of 'the human hand' - without ladders or picking platforms; this always throws up (strong) differences of opinion.
The Gala trees at Fair View Farm reach 2.5 - 3 metres in height.
Below: A Gala row and Gala tops
Below: Quality is very good this season, with minimal skin russet issues
Following the walk around Fair View Farm we all moved onto Sean Charlton's 'Home Farm' at Rumwwod Green.
Gala Club Chairman - Peter Checkley thanked Sponsors ICA Ltd and Kirkland Machinery, before introducing the speakers for the 'post farm walk' meeting; Adrian Barlow - CEO English Apples & Pears: Tim Biddlecombe - MD of FAST: Dr.Martin Luton - Technical Manager Fruition PO: and Len Manning - ICA Group.
Below: UK Gala sales percentage by Supermarket
Adrian presented an encouraging picture for the continued expansion of 'home grown' apples; the sales of English apples to Supermarkets has risen by 177% compared to 2006/07; from 57,000 tonnes to 101,000 tonnes in 2014/15.
Gala (Imported and English) had a 4% share of the UK market in 1991 and now sits at 27% - English Gala sales stood at 6,720 tonnes in 2001/02 and the rise to 41,977 tonnes in 2014/15 is staggering!
How Supermarkets support English apples is of great importance to our growers; some positively support home grown fruit, while others are easily tempted to take the 'cheaper option' of imported apples. The £ v the Euro is a very significant factor when a Supermarket buyer makes decisions on supply.
The clear supporters of home grown Gala are Sainsburys and Tesco with close to 30% each of total Gala sales; Sainsburys sales are well above their 'overall grocery' market share. Waitrose also 'punch above their weight' and M&S probably give growers the highest monetary returns per kilo of fruit. The disappointments are Morrisons and ASDA where the impact of the 'discounters' and a policy of procuring imported, has seen a reduction on their sales of home grown Gala.
Below: the increase in home grown apple sales is encouraging
Sales of home grown are encouraging; data supports the increase of fruit in general and a 7% increase in apple sales by volume; the consumer has benefited from a 4% decrease in price per kilo!
The presentation by Tim Biddlecombe - MD of FAST demonstrated the importance of 'dry matter' on the eating quality of the Gala (and apples in general) - for a understanding of the importance of dry matter; click on English Apple Man Journal for 27th March 2015
Dr.Martin Luton - Technical Manager Fruition PO updated Gala Club members on the seasonal status of Gala picking dates.
The factors taken into consideration for harvest date decision include; sugar levels, background colour and particularly fruit firmness and starch pattern. Fruit firmness is and important part of the 'equation' as firmness at point of sale, which may be 6 months on from harvest will only be achieved if firmness at harvest meets the known criteria. Starch pattern is very important for long term storage; if it falls below the optimum, fruit will not store successfully for long term (e.g. March) - the optimum for Gala long term is 85%.
Martin reminded growers that once the starch pattern falls, the decline is rapid; on the basis of current data, growers should be starting Gala very soon.
Below: Gala firmness graph (in camparison with recent years) - and - Gala starch pattern graph
Len Manning - Technical Manager at ICA group updated members on the SafePod DCA trials.
Dynamic Controlled Atmosphere using the ICA 'Safepod' system is supported by the new research programme led by ICA in association with fellow consortium members, the University of Greenwich (in association with the Produce Quality Centre at East Malling), AC Goatham and Son, Sainsbury's and APL have been awarded funding from The UK's Innovation Agency, Innovate UK to fund a three year research project starting in the Autumn of 2015.
The project is titled 'SafePod: New Technology for intelligent control of fresh produce storage'. This will see the full scale trialing and further development of the SafePod system for UK fruit and growing conditions and determine how best this new technology can be implemented to the benefit of the UK fruit storage industry.
After the formal aspects of the Gala Club meeting, we all enjoyed delicious 'fish & chips' - second only to English Apples...........
Below Gala Club Members listen to the evenings speakers ..........
Finally; can I say hello to my friends David & Claire who tell me they read the English Apple Man Journal in bed on a Saturday morning on their iPad.............
The English Apple Man