When it gets underway this autumn, this year’s top fruit season will see the producer AC Goatham & Son’s use its ultra-modern multi-million pound cold storage and packing facility for the first time. Produce Business UK speaks to commercial director Carol Ford to find out how the investment is securing both a year-round supply of English top fruit and a bright future for this successful family business
AC Goatham & Son, run by father and son Clive and Ross Goatham and their diligent operations team, has achieved the impressive feat of producing one in every four-and-a-half British apples, and one in every three British pears, sold in the UK. As it prepares to celebrate its 70th year of trading next year, the Kent-based family business clearly has no intention of resting on its laurels. Ford divulges: “Our business has a plan for the next 25 years which quite simply will see us try to increase further the market share for apples and pears in our home market and for that fruit to be available for 12 months of the year. We will of course use the technology available to ensure that it is possible to achieve a year-round supply of British apples.”
The firm has already set to work on this plan by continuing its long-running tradition of investment. For example, those who visit AC Goatham’s headquarters (in Flanders Farm, Hoo) will now be able to feast their eyes on one of the firm’s latest investments – a new packhouse and cold storage facility. Ford explains: “The £9 million investment has been privately funded by the business which has consistently reinvested profits for a number of years, including gains made from the sale of land for housing development. The new facility will create a number of seasonal jobs, estimated to be between 50 to 100.”
The £9m new facility under construction
Ford confirms that the new development has been built to help store, grade and pack the firm’s burgeoning fruit supply. She explains: “AC Goatham & Son has embarked on a significant planting scheme over the last several years which by 2020 will see over 1m new fruit trees planted.” As part of this planting programme the firm last year (2015) completed at its Elmstone site (near Canterbury) the UK’s largest planting of Conference pears in 40 years.
Thanks to its intensive, modern planting scheme, this 63,000-tree orchard will produce close to 60 tonnes a hectare – similar to levels across continental Europe. AC Goatham & Son’s tree-planting strategy has also seen the firm – which has 17 farms and 20 partner farms across Kent – adopt the long-term tenancy at Turkey Hall Farm in Upper Stoke, near Hoo.
Given its determination, it is perhaps unsurprising to learn that the Goatham team has already started replanting this piece of land with 70ha of new orchards of Conference pears, Cox and a new, early-fruiting clone of Royal Gala. Ford explains: “The new [packing] facility, coupled with new, earlier fruiting varieties which we have planted, should soon allow us to have British apples in the supermarkets earlier in the season.”
Keeping up tradition
The firm first began trading in 1947 as an agricultural contractor and fresh produce merchant – and started growing top fruit in Kent’s Medway region in 1980. Having gradually increased its portfolio over the years, AC Goatham & Son now grows a plethora of varieties, including Cox, Discovery, Zari, Kanzi, Royal Gala, Braeburn, Cameo, Egremont Russet, Rubens, Bramley, Fuji, Windsor and Spartan apples, and Comice, Concorde and Conference pears. Fresh produce buyers will note that many of the UK’s growers have gradually phased out their production of traditional top-fruit varieties such as Bramley and Cox in favour of newer cultivars such as Kanzi.
Yet AC Goatham, which produces some 150m apples and 45m pears in the UK each year, has noticeably continued to invest in both old and new varieties. Ford explains: “These more traditional varieties are still very popular amongst British consumers and it is important to grow a number of different varieties to help ensure British apples and pears remain in store for a greater part each year, to help displace the need for, and reliance on, imported fruit. Secondly, we have now changed the way that we grow varieties such as Conference pears to ensure we are as competitive on yield, quality and price as the other European growers and we feel there is a significant scope to increase the market share for British Conference.” Given its wide portfolio and focus on the future, it is perhaps unsurprising that AC Goatham & Son has now become the fastest-growing top-fruit business in the UK – and is showing no signs of slowing down.
AC Goatham & Son is exhibiting at The London Produce Show and Conference on June 9 and hosting the farm tour on June 10.