Innovation to benefit customers
Our customers can trust us because they know we only grow the latest, proven successful varieties. To achieve and maintain this trust we are constantly reviewing breeding programs for new soft fruit varieties as they become available.
Through our in-house trials, we comprehensively test each potential variety for possible future commercialisation for our customers.
We work to continuously improve our farming to enable our crops to be harvested and delivered to customers in the best condition, and as quickly as possible. To achieve this, Hall Hunter must use market-leading crop systems. To achieve optimum productivity, we implement the following:
- 100% table top growing for our strawberry crops. We believe for the best fruit quality and pick speed, 100% table tops is the only way to go.
- We pick blueberries faster. We grow blueberries in light, spacious formations of plants to maximise pick speed and quality. We then create further value for our customers by putting the berries over our optic grader before distribution. This enables us to meet specific customer specifications in regards to blueberry size and quality.
- Our cane crops, raspberries and blackberries are supported by 3D lateral supports. These are used in all fields to provide ideal spacing for both the plant and our pickers.
The berry sector is fast moving. It’s critical in horticulture to grow improved varieties of fruit in order to extend our season. We adopt a holistic approach to all our business functions in order to improve our productivity and value, so that we can continue to deliver our customers affordable, premium berries for a longer UK season.
As the industry and our customers’ tastes quickly evolve, so do we intend to continue making developments within Hall Hunter. This includes everything from adopting new horticultural technology to assist with our growing processes and extending the season through exciting new varieties, to administering new managerial and business model techniques. At Hall Hunter, we are continuously striving for excellence in everything we do.
Innovation and Agronomics
The berry sector is a fast moving part of Horticulture with a number of variables to be negotiated so we can come up with the right crop mix to ensure our customers get the fruit they want when they want it.
Hall Hunter Innovations Video
As we move forward it’s probable we could have warmer, wetter weather. This means we may be able to supply English berries for longer of the season and we may have to move to varieties and plant types that require less winter chill. Right now we have to put most of our raspberry long cane plants in the cold store for two months to ensure they get sufficient chill, this breaks down the hormone build up so the plant can grow away in the spring with vigour and realise their full potential. Without enough chill berry plants are slow to wake up in the new season meaning crops can be later and yield less.
There are many berry breeding programmes and it’s our job to know each of the programmes and understand the attributes of all of their varieties so that we can evaluate whether they are suitable for us to take forward. At Hall Hunter we aim to drive productivity so varieties that yield more with a greater berry size will help with pick speeds. All the time we are looking for varieties with improved favour and shelf life. Some of our customers wish to have berries with more aromatic smell and taste so we need to identify potential berries to fill this demand. Other varieties perform better in early spring and other’s late into the Autumn. Some can withstand hotter temperatures in the summer without becoming too pithy. The overall aim is more English berries, of better quality for a longer season!!
We first try and understand exactly when our customer want their berries and then develop a crop plan that is aligned to this demand. A major part of picking the berries when needed is making sure we have the right plant type. The largest variance comes with Strawberries, from heavy waiting beds to large tray plants to mini tray plants, to bare root plants. Each can yield the same but the berries will come at different times of the season. This is great because it helps us with our crop plan -Like a mechanic having different tools in their box for different repairs.
With raspberry cropping we use a plant type called a “Long cane” it’s a 1.8 metre raspberry cane that we then plant sequentially through the winter, spring and early summer to ensure we have raspberries from 20th May -1st November
We buy all of our strawberry plants so we need a strong, close relationship with our plant suppliers to ensure they grow us the right plant to achieve our crop plan. We also work together with our propagators to develop and understand how each variety performs, both in varying growing environments and with different plants types. The plant type and quality of plant material has a very significant effect on crop yield and berry quality. A strong, sustainable relationship with our propagator partners over the long term is vital so we receive the right support and plant quality to deliver the yield improvements and berry quality needed to achieve future success.
We have to develop and edit our ways of growing to improve berry quality, yield and pick speed. In strawberries we now have all our crop on table tops, 1.6 metres off the ground so our berries are growing in a drier micro climate and we can pick as faster. Our goal with raspberries is to move from a 7.6 metre tunnel to an 8.2 metre tunnel this is a better growing climate. We also are working to improve cane quality so we can plant fewer canes a metre and give each cane more space and light. We think this will improve berry size, quality and pick speeds without compromising yields. On blueberries we are moving to a more prostrate plant with different pruning to enable us to have the crop at the right picking height. This will also give us younger wood on the plant which in turn will improve berry size and quality.
Year on year we are working to improve pollination in our blueberry crops. There is a direct correlation between the quality of pollination and yield and berry quality. We have excellent relationships with our bumble bee suppliers, we agree where each hive is needed, when it needs to be in situ, they come and monitor activity and we make changes as the pollination season is upon us. Every year is different and to get the best blueberry crop pollination we need to be paranoid about whether we have sufficient in the right areas and whether the bees are mature enough and ready to work. Each of our farms have many honey bee hives. Honey bees work very well at temperature above 15c but not if cooler so it’s important to have a combination of both bumble and honey bees. We aim to grow our berry crops in a balanced ecosystem where the pollinators have wild flowers to live off besides the berry flowers, we find this works well and our natural pollinator numbers are increasing.
Heated Strawberry Crop
We would like to pick earlier and later in the year to do this we are investing in environmental heat projects to enable us to generate hot water and heat our tunnels. The projects are in their infancy but we’re confident they will give us a good start and end to our seasons.
When we harvest our blueberry crop we can then put it over a grader that by using camera technology can take out, class 2, green and soft berries. The grader can also select the blueberries by size so we can have punnets with small, medium or large berries only. This technology gives us more flexibility at harvest time and enables faster picking.
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