Real Voices interview: Philip Taylor
Apple farmer in Chelmsford, Essex
What do you do?
I have been farming for over 30 years, and with my brother Stephen, we are the third generation of my family to grow fruit at Lathcoats Farm.
What do you farm?
Our speciality is apples! We grow over 40 varieties of apple, including Essex’s own Chelmsford Wonder. But we also grow strawberries, raspberries, currants, cherries and gooseberries.
What factors affect your yield?
They are very often out of our control, such as the weather! If conditions are favourable, we can produce up to 450 tonnes of apples, but poor weather such as frost, hail, or excessive rain or wind can almost completely destroy the yield. This can be particularly detrimental if it coincides with flowering, as it is not conducive to pollination. There are also a number of biotic factors – such as fungi, mildews and storage rots – that can affect the quality of the fruit, as well as the yield.
Do you have a problem with pests?
There are various pests, such as aphids, mites, birds and moth caterpillars, but we can normally control these well using pheromone traps and disrupters. We are also able to manage our orchard edges, hedgerows and grasslands to attract certain insects that feed on the pests.
How has the apple farming industry changed over your lifetime?
The most notable changes have been in the marketing conditions and in consumer preferences, rather than in technology. Customers now require crisp, crunchy and sweet apples, such as Gala and Braeburns, rather than the more traditional varieties.
We have also experienced decreasing profit margins due to increasing growing costs. As a result, high yields are now essential, and we have had to increase the planting densities.
What does the future hold?
We will probably see a reduction in the number of smaller fruit growers, with a move towards fewer but bigger producers who are able to implement complex and expensive growing systems to ensure a reliable yield and quality.