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Meet the Upchurch apricot grower

PUBLISHED: 15:36 12 September 2015 | UPDATED: 15:36 12 September 2015

Apricot farmer Robert Hinge

Apricot farmer Robert Hinge

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

Robert Hinge on undertaking apricot trials for Marks and Spencer and his Hadlow training.

Name: Robert Hinge

Job title: Fruit farmer

Where: Upchurch, near Sittingbourne

What sort of farm is it?

It’s a mix of fruit and arable, I manage the fruit and my fellow director, James Mair, manages the arable.

Tell us about the farm

It all began close on 100 years ago with a small farm owned by my great grandfather. Today we farm in excess of 2,000 acres, which includes 30 acres that are rented. Just over 250 acres are devoted to fruit, the remainder arable.

The fruit acreage is approximately 150 apples, 50 pears, 30 plums, 20 cherries and three of apricots, the remainder is arable.

A few years ago the Marks & Spencer buyer with whom we had a long relationship came on one of his regular visits. At that time we had just half a dozen apricot trees and it wasn’t a commercial operation. I picked and gave him a ripe apricot and he loved the flavour and juiciness.

As a result, M&S funded a trial and in 2007 we planted an apricot orchard and the first fruit arrived on the M&S shelves in 2010. The trial is proving quite successful and this winter we shall plant more trees on an increased acreage.

Who inspired you?

I grew up in a farming family and, not surprisingly, members of my family were my inspiration.

How long have you been in the industry?

Like all farming families, I began helping at quite a young age. I started as a teenager which means I have now been farming for about 35 years.

What about training?

I went to Hadlow College and did an HND in agriculture, which was strange because later, when I joined the family business, I concentrated predominately on the fruit. After Hadlow I spent two years abroad including a year in America where I worked on a large arable and beef farm.

What fruit do you grow?

A large range of apples including Gala, Braeburn, Jazz, Cox and Bramley. The pears are mostly Conference. The apricots are from a French breeding station called Carmingo. There are a number of varieties, giving a picking spread of seven weeks, starting in August.

How do you market your produce?

Through Fruition PO Ltd, which owns 50 per cent of the shares of Worldwide Fruit Limited, our principal marketing agent. The board is made up of members, all of whom are growers and I have been chairman since 2010. Most of our fruit goes to the top-end supermarkets.

How many people do you employ?

Six full-time and about 60 seasonal staff.

Describe a working day

It depends on the time of year of course, but it usually starts at about 7am. At picking time, which begins in July, we first get all the tractors and machinery ready and then the hard work of picking commences.

A lot of my own time, indeed far, far more than I like, is spent in the office on administration.

Do you have children involved in the farm?

We have two children. John is involved in various aspects of the farm and Rachael is currently living and working in London.

Marks out of 10 for job satisfaction?

Nine – it would have been 10 if it wasn’t for so much paperwork – oh, and the cold weather! w

Get in touch

Ham Green Farm,

Upchurch Sittingbourne ME97HH

01795 843741 or robert.hinge@ahinge.co.uk

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