Planning bears fruit for Kent Strawberry producer
A European first for the strawberry industry is already delivering on its promise of increased yields of higher quality fruit for a Kent producer.
Charlton Farms, one of the county’s largest family-owned soft and top fruit producers, has invested £5m and built 30 acres of fully retractable greenhouses developed by Canadian company Cravo, to protect its crops and reduce its environmental impact.
DHA secured planning permission for the retractable greenhouses, as well as storage buildings, water storage tanks, drainage system and a 24,980m3 reservoir on land at Ulcombe in Kent.
DHA undertook a pre-application consultation with Historic England due to the site’s close proximity to the grade 1 listed All Saints Church and attended Parish Council meetings during the application process to keep the local community informed of progress.
The site, on the Greensand Ridge, was deemed by the council to be a landscape of local value but not designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The proposals incorporated planting of native species trees, hedgerows and conifers under a landscaping scheme.
Despite the local Parish Council opposing the scheme on the grounds of landscape impact and the accumulative effect of the new Cravo greenhouses and other nearby polytunnels on the Greensand Ridge, the application secured the officer’s recommendation for approval.
Historic England raised no objection on the proposal’s impact on the setting of the historic church and permission was granted by Maidstone Borough Council.
The Cravo system is used extensively around the world in warm and hot climates as the retractable roofs allow fruit and vegetables to be produced during times of the year when it is difficult to grow. After a small-scale trial, Charlton Farms saw the opportunity to use the system to help extend their growing season and at the same time produce greater volumes of high-quality berries.
Sean Charlton, Managing Director at Charlton Farms, said: “The retractable roofs and sides, all fully automated, combine with the weather station and mean we can mitigate the risk of late frosts and rain, protecting our crop and harvesting our table-top grown strawberries between May and November.
“The system also allows us to very accurately measure humidity, evaporation and all other aspects of the strawberries’ physiology, which meant we could improve our already very high levels of consistent high-quality fruit.”
The Cravo system incorporates rainwater harvesting and makes all 30 acres of the greenhouses self-sufficient, avoiding any risk of flooding by collecting and storing the water in the reservoir.
After planning permission was secured from Maidstone Borough Council, Charlton Farms started construction on site in January 2018, with the first strawberries planted this February and harvested from May onwards.
Sean Charlton added: “What the Cravo system enables us to do is harvest early from our customers’ perspective, which include Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, the Co-op and Iceland, and means we can deliver late season British fruit to their stores.
“Building the Cravo greenhouses ourselves, and working very closely with the team in Canada, means we now have a Rolls Royce system that will improve our productivity, competitiveness and also in a small way reduce the UK’s dependence on overseas produced strawberries.”
Charlton Farms grows strawberries under protection on 230 acres of its 1,100 acres within 5 miles of its head office at Langley near Maidstone. They employ 1,400 people during the summer and 650 in the winter.