Armagh Bramley apple harvest brings challenges

Ulster Farmers' Union. Harvesting apples near Richhill, County Armagh.  Picture: Cliff Donaldson
Ulster Farmers' Union. Harvesting apples near Richhill, County Armagh. Picture: Cliff Donaldson

The Bramley apple has become a traditional food appearing on supermarket shelves across Northern Ireland, but this apple is perhaps most prominent in the orchards of Co Armagh.

To celebrate the apple harvesting season UFU fruit chairman, Hamilton Loney gives us an insight into the 2015 harvest.

The bicentenary of the Bramley apple was celebrated in 2009, marking 200 years since this variety of apple was first grown in England. In 2010 Northern Ireland applied for the Protected Geographical Indicator (PGI) status. The Armagh Bramley apple received this prestigious status in 2012, making it part of a premium food club, giving the Armagh Bramley apple a unique position under the EU Protected Food Name Scheme.

Mr Loney said: “Receiving the PGI stamp was a tremendous achievement for the industry. It is now used on labels by packers and producers and serves as assurance to consumers that the apples they are purchasing have been grown locally.”

In their desire to know more about local food, the Northern Ireland public show great enthusiasm for food festivals.

This year the Richhill Apple Harvest Fayre will showcase the Armagh Bramley apple, welcoming visitors from across the province to view cookery demonstrations, take part in apple peeling and meet the growers. The festival was a huge success last year with the organisers looking forward to another highly attended event.

“The Richhill Apple Harvest Fayre will take place on Saturday 31 October this year and the organisers would like to encourage everyone to come along and enjoy a free, fun-filled day of activities for all the family to enjoy.

“2015 brought additional challenges to the orchards leaving some apples unfit for entry to the supply chain. Quite often this can be due to frost damage to the nose of the apple or growth cracks, caused by erratic growth spurts, open eye or flesh scabs, all of which prevent a full harvest,” explained Mr Loney.

“In addition to this unfavourable weather during the main blossom season this year lead to a reduced crop in some areas, with several orchards experiencing a severe drop in optimal output levels,” said Mr Loney.

Due to the lateness of the blossom other areas have seen an increase in the quantity of smaller apples harvested this year.

“Farmers are continuing to produce high quality produce but sometimes many challenges outside their control impact the return they receive from the market place,” Mr Loney added. Over the past few years benchmarking has allowed growers to gain an understanding of their cost of production and while fertiliser, fungicide costs and the onset of the new living wage continue to increase each year, the price growers receive for their apples doesn’t reflect these continuous increases.

“If farmers are to grow their businesses greater support for the industry is needed. In order to grow the government must develop a scheme to encourage investment in the removal of old and derelict orchards and replanting of existing orchards. This would help ensure a sustainable fruit sector going forward,” he said.

The apple industry in Northern Ireland continues to develop and innovate with growers now trialling several varieties of red eating apples. Historically a lot of eating apples have been grown in NI; however these were mainly for pollination purposes.

“There is currently trials on a number of varieties including, Red Windsor, Royal Gala, Red Elstar Jonaprince and Cevaal to name a few, and market signals from consumers suggest the outlook for eating apples is promising,” he said. Mr Loney continued: “The main objective now is to find a variety of eating apple which can be commercially grown here.”

“The upcoming NI Year of Food poses exciting prospects for the apple industry, giving growers, producers and packers an opportunity to showcase the Armagh Bramley apple. This significance in food provenance is reflected in the increasing interest by food writers and critics coming to our province specifically to experience more about Armagh Bramley. We want to move this sector forward and in order to drive this, cooperation with the levy working group is essential,” Mr Loney added.

For further information on the Armagh Bramley apple please see the recently launched website: www.armaghbramley.com