30 November 2001

Eight orchards put fruit market to test

A SERIOUS test of the fruit market has arisen with the sale of eight farms in Kent, covering a total of 995 acres near Sittingbourne and Maidstone.

The sale includes two farmhouses, one needing redevelopment, with two substantial packhouses and 3240t of modern storage.

All the orchards are in elevated positions west of Maidstone and on the North Downs.

They comprise Court Lodge Orchards at East Farleigh, Fox Pitt Farm and Farleigh Green Orchards at West Farleigh, Shingle Barn Orchards at West Farleigh, Swanton Farm at Bicknor, Bexon Manor Farm at Bexon, Yalding Hill Orchards at Yalding, and Pelican Farm at Teston.

Selling agent Lambert & Foster has drawn up 24 lots ranging from three to 260 acres to be taken to auction on Mar 6, unless sold before.

All but four of the lots, involving 58 acres, have individual auction guides that add up to between £2.28m and £2.52m.

The sale, on behalf of Paynes Stores, is seen as by far the most important portfolio of fruit farms to be brought to the market in the past decade. They are not expected to be sold as a whole.

Swanton Farm is the biggest holding, with 740 acres including 637 acres of apple, pear, plum and cherry orchards and over 100 acres of woodland. Buildings extend to 69,200sq ft and 2600t of storage. In addition to the second farmhouse, six cottages could be made available.

Further infrastructure is two miles away at Bexon Manor Farm, where 27,000sq ft of buildings includes a supermarket standard packhouse and 640t of storage.

"The freehold values of the orchards are probably a quarter to a third of establishment," said Alan Mummery of Lambert & Foster.

Top fruit has just had one of its best seasons ever, but many growers are taking firm decisions about whether to stay in or leave the industry, not least because of the vagaries of dealing with the supermarkets, say market sources.

They say that Paynes Stores, having invested a lot in its orchards and carried out major surgery on trees on the Downs, is likely to be offering an attractive business proposition for those committed to continuing production. &#42

Top fruit has had a good year, but supermarkets are demanding.