Polytunnel Code of Practice

Why polytunnels are used

The British soft fruit industry, one of the few agricultural success stories of the last ten years, faces a crisis as moves are being made to prevent the use of the polytunnel.

British-grown soft fruits, such as strawberries and raspberries, have become an important and successful rural business. Berries now represent the most important market in which UK fruit growers are involved. Sales in UK supermarkets of home-grown berries have increased 130% in the last four years.

The success of the British soft fruit industry can be largely attributed to the use of the polytunnel (sometimes called a Spanish tunnel) which was introduced to British farming in l993.

These temporary plastic structures were developed from similar designs used by farmers in Spain to protect their winter salad crops. Polytunnels consist of a tubular steel framework of hoops over which polythene is secured. The moveable tunnels are erected and dismantled by farm staff or horticultural contractors at the end of each growing season - a maximum period of six months of any year.

The polythene film has a life of 3-10 years after which it is sent to a recycling plant.

How the polytunnel has benefited the British soft fruit industry

Ten years ago British soft fruit was seen as an unreliable product, beset by unpredictable weather conditions, prone to disease and damage.

The British strawberry is seen as a traditional treat, but, in fact, it is very difficult to grow. Summer rain not only prevents harvesting, but spoils the fruit and produces high-cost waste as labour costs prevent the picking of poor quality berries. British-grown

to give up the cultivation of soft fruit. product, Today the polytunnel is used to protect 80% of the soft fruit  sold through supermarkets. It provides protection not only berries were produced from June to July and distributed through green-grocers and pick-your-own establishments. Most were used for the processing of jam and other fruit products most notably because the berries were not of high enough quality. Spain, France and America (many of whose farmers use polytunnels) were more successful in the growing of high quality fruit due to more reliable climates and, as a result they dominated the uK market with imports. The devastating impact on returns coupled with the increase in growing costs caused many British farmers to give up cultivation of soft fruit.

Today the polytunnels is used to protect 80% of the soft fruit sold through supermarkets. It provides protection not only to strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, but to tomatoes,  onions, potatoes, peppers and flowers.

Supermarkets represent 85% of the British retail business – that is, their demands for high quality fruit and prompt, consistent deliveries throughout the season must be met if a fruit farmer  is to have a viable business. The farmer who cannot meet these standards is ‘de-listed’ or dropped as a supplier. Prior to the introduction of polytunnels in England only 50% of

Prior to the introduction of polytunnels in England only 50% of the soft fruit yield was Grade 1 fruit; now it is nearly 90%. For a soft fruit grower, all of which are privately-owned family-run businesses, this represents the difference between having a business and going out of business.

There would be no British soft fruit businesses without the use of polytunnels

There are no realistic alternatives to the polytunnel if the soft fruit industry is to remain viable.

ADLib logo Content provided by the Agricultural Document Library
© University of Hertfordshire, 2011