Bob finds a bank who likes to say ‘yes’ as he plots a major replanting programme at his Fenland orchards

14:20 02 July 2014

Photo left to right: Peter Beckwith, Barclays Agriculture Manager, Bob Littlechild , Littlechild & Son Ltd,  Mike Osborn, Barclays Business Support; Mark Littlechild, Littlechild & Son Ltd

Photo left to right: Peter Beckwith, Barclays Agriculture Manager, Bob Littlechild , Littlechild & Son Ltd, Mike Osborn, Barclays Business Support; Mark Littlechild, Littlechild & Son Ltd

Archant

An extensive orchard replanting programme to capture the growing demand for English dessert apples is under way near Wisbech.

Fruit farmer Bob Littlechild invited his bank manager to visit after they backed him in his expansion bid.

A Barclays spokesman said: “Planting a new orchard is a long term investment. It usually takes three years before there is any significant crop and up to seven years before full cropping potential is achievable.

“Meanwhile varieties come and go adding the risk that what was fashionable at time of planting is no longer in demand.”

Littlechild & Son Limited, based at Leverington, initiated the expansion to ensure the farm moved with the demand for more English dessert apples rather than culinary varieties.

Mr Littlechild said the business, now into a fifth generation with his son Mark joining the team, remains committed to growing excellent quality fruit.

He said: “Approximately one third of the farm has been replanted in recent years and this placed a strain on the company’s finances.

“However, Barclays provided the funding to enable us to continue move forward. The replanting does not guarantee success but it provides us with a platform to build on.

“We deliberately limit the crop on the younger trees to promote growth but the yield from the Gala trees planted in 2010 tripled from 2012 to 2013 and we expect yields of over 30 tonnes per hectare in the near future.”

He said fruit growing is an uncertain business. In the short term each year’s yield is in the hands of nature, one frost or hail storm can wipe out a crop. From tree to supermarket shelf, apples and pears must be handled with care.

And picking (all done by hand), storing until there is sufficient demand, grading, packing and distribution all provide opportunities for product to be damaged and fall short of strict supermarket quality standards.

Mike Osborne, Business Support Director at Barclays said “With Bob’s experience as well as Mark’s enthusiasm and determination, it is a real credit to them both that they have been able achieve significant increased harvest yields and prices with the excellent quality of fruit being grown.

“They should reap the rewards for their hard work for some years to come.”

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