Record-breaking strawberry season to last until December

Polytunnels and the increased use of glasshouses have been crucial to extending the British strawberry season

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The Independent Online

Wimbledon was four months ago and summer is long gone, but British strawberries are still appearing on supermarket shelves as growers celebrate a record-breaking crop.

Mild weather, new farming techniques and hardy varieties have helped dramatically extend the traditional seven-week British strawberry season in recent years.

But this autumn, growers think they will be picking the sweet berries as late as December thanks to a summer of ideal growing conditions and the increase use of greenhouses.

British Summer Fruits, the trade body that represents the vast majority of British growers, said this year’s strawberry crop is already a “staggering” 60,170 tonnes, which is an 8 per cent increase on last year. According to the organisation this boom is partly down to good levels of sunshine, low humidity, warm temperatures and cooler nights.

But the introduction of polytunnels and the increased use of glasshouses, originally used mostly for salads and flowers, have also been crucial to extending the strawberry season – which 25 years ago used to last around seven weeks but this year is likely to stretch to nearly 40 weeks of the year.

Anthony Snell, who runs AJ & CI Snell farm with his wife Christine in Herefordshire, said: “Thanks to the fantastic growing conditions that we’ve seen throughout the year, we have been able to provide flavoursome, sweet strawberries starting in spring and continuing all the way into mid-autumn.

“We use polytunnels to protect our crops and this crucially meant that the crop and soil were protected throughout the season, so they could grow naturally without any damage.”

Some conservationists say the temporary structures, which growers claim reduce pesticide use and the need to ship food from miles away, disfigure the countryside.

However, Abi Johnson, a specialist strawberry breeder and researcher at East Malling Research, said the fruit will taste just as sweet.

She said: “There is no reason why late season strawberries grown in a glasshouse or polytunnel won’t be just as tasty as fruit from July, as long as they get the same food and are well looked after. Sunlight is sunlight whether outside or in a glasshouse.”