Day in the life of a strawberry grower

PUBLISHED: 11:40 19 August 2016 | UPDATED: 11:40 19 August 2016

Delicious strawberries

Delicious strawberries

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

Sean Charlton on fruit farming as a family with concern for the environment at the forefront. Words by: Pat Crawford. 
Pictures by: Manu Palomeque

(c) Manu Palomeque(c) Manu Palomeque

Name: Sean Charlton

Job title: Farmer and grower, George Charlton and Sons.

Strawberries on the conveyorbelt (c) Manu PalomequeStrawberries on the conveyorbelt (c) Manu Palomeque

Where? Langley, near Maidstone.

Packaged strawberriesPackaged strawberries

Tell us about you

I am the fourth generation of the family running the farm. The business was started in 1946 by my great grandfather, George Charlton, who had been involved in fruit since 1905.

Strawberries being sortedStrawberries being sorted

My grandfather Harold took over the running of the farm in 1947 and my father Philip ran the business from 1972 and now it’s me.

I’ve been in the farming industry now about 28 years in total and was a student at Hadlow College for two years, where I obtained a National Diploma in Horticulture with fruit as a specialism.

Ready to goReady to go

Tell us about the farm

GrowingGrowing

We farm about 830 acres, some of which is owned and some rented. The office and the main part of the farm are at Langley, the remainder of the land is located at nine different places within about a five-mile radius of the office.

We grow apples, strawberries, cherries and raspberries, with about 300 acres devoted to apples and about 175 acres to strawberries.

Strawberries coming along wellStrawberries coming along well

The majority of our apples are Gala and Rubens. We are intending to plant a further 50 acres of apples later this year.

Apart from the apples, all of our fruit is grown in tunnels, which has many advantages. We are far less dependent on the weather, the growing season is extended, the fruit doesn’t get dirty and it is also far less backbreaking for staff than field-production methods.

PickingPicking

We have our own packhouse and, as well as packing our fruit, we undertake contracts for several other Kent-based growers. We employ about 200 people all year round, rising to about 1,000 during the very busy time. Some of our employees have been with us 16 or more years.

Consideration for the environment is central to our thinking. The availability of water is vital in fruit farming and increasing climate variability is a factor – hence we made the decision to build reservoirs.

What was your inspiration?

Obviously the farm was all around me when I was growing up, but when I was a student I worked on a farm producing a lot of strawberries. We weren’t growing them on the farm at that time and my desire to produce strawberries really began then. My enthusiasm continues today.

How do you market?

We produce for all the big supermarkets, with Sainsbury’s being the largest of our customers. We sell to the supermarkets through Total Produce and Avalon.

Your typical working day?

I normally start about 7.30am. My working day has necessarily become more and more office based and I employ two managers, who are my my right-hand men, one of whom looks after the farm and the other the packhouse.

I liaise with them both every day, usually in the morning. A great deal of my time is involved in planning, forecasting the future and thinking ahead strategically.

The future of fruit in Kent?

I believe that fruit has a very good future in the county. Demand for local produce is growing all the time, while modern techniques enable us to lengthen our growing season. Kent is also extending into more novel crops that we weren’t able to grow a few years’ ago.

Any children following in your footsteps?

We have an eight-year-old son, Sam. He is a bit too young to be thinking about a career just yet, but he loves being outdoors and he likes tractors!

Marks out of 10 for the job?

I never don’t want to go into work, true, I would like to be less office-bound – but it is still a 10!

Get in touch

George Charlton and Sons,

Rumwood Green Farm, Sutton Road, Langley, Maidstone ME17 3ND

01622 861300 or sean@rumwoodgreenfarm.co.uk

midkentgrowers.co.uk/g-charlton-sons

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