Published: 06:00, 03 October 2021
The biggest fruit producer in Kent says climate change is resulting in the destruction of its cherries due to more frequent and heavier rainstorms.
FW Mansfield & Son therefore wants to install rows of polytunnels across its fields at two bases in Canterbury.
It claims yield could be raised by about 35% thanks to the protection of crops and says it will be able to invest in premium varieties to respond to market demands.
The firm, which operates as Mansfields, is awaiting the outcome of two planning applications lodged with the city council by director Paul Mansfield.
One is for the installation of polytunnels across 27 acres at Nickle Farm in Chartham, while the second bid is on a larger scale, covering 57 acres at Nackington Farm.
The plan for Chartham has attracted a handful of objections from residents concerned about the “blots on the landscape”, yet Mansfields says the tunnels are “an essential feature of soft and top fruit growing in modern farming practice”.
A report put forward by planning agents Finn’s says: “Without protection, 80% of cherry crops are destroyed by rain over a ten year period.
“Modern consumer expectations and that of the multiples who buy from F W Mansfield & Son are that produce will be of high quality and as a result, supermarkets will only purchase strawberries grown under cover.
“With the post-Brexit needs of fresh food supply within the UK, increased quality standards and higher demand from customers, polytunnels are increasingly important in enabling the agricultural community to meet these needs. Cherries are particularly sensitive to changes in weather with whole crops being wiped out through rain.
“Without the polytunnels, crops success are left to significant chance and climate change, resulting in more frequent and heavier rainstorms which wipe out entire cherry crops.”
Across its Kent bases, Mansfields produces 208 million cherries a year - making it one of the biggest fruit farming businesses in the UK. Last year, it snapped up a further 275 acres of farmland to greatly expand its base at Nackington, while the Nickle Farm site off the A28 has recently been upgraded.
Some neighbours however, do not want the cherry production at Chartham to be covered.
Alexis Howard said: “Little is done and in fact little is possible to hide or disguise the ugly nature of the tunnels in addition to which it is a vast over use of plastic and materials.”
Chartham Parish Council has also objected, citing how the impact on the countryside will be “unacceptable”.
The objection reads: “While the parish council understands the applicant’s wish for polytunnels to make their farming business more efficient, councillors feel that this modern agricultural intensification is to the detriment of the historical landscape character of the adjacent Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty."