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Polytunnels: Why we must all learn to love them

PUBLISHED: 01:16 03 October 2011 | UPDATED: 20:05 20 February 2013

Polytunnels: Why we must all learn to love them

Polytunnels: Why we must all learn to love them

Polytunnels are a fact of life for a county where fruit production is so important, and here's why we must all learn to love them.

Polytunnels are a fact of life for a county where fruit production is so important, and heres why we must all learn to love them.

If you live in Kent and are neither a soft fruit grower nor employed by one, you possibly dont like polytunnels or cherry covers very much. If you live somewhere with a rural view which features a clutch of them, you might have a stronger view still.

As inhabitants of one of the nations most important fruit-producing counties, however maybe we should know a bit more about them.

Kent is known as the Garden of England with good reason. Some 76 per cent of the countrys agricultural land is devoted to fruit production, which is worth around 120 million to the rural economy.

Farmers are not at liberty to change what they grow at a whim, and it is not just climate that dictates crop choices soil type and topography are equally influential, as are the considerable farm infrastructure and knowledge built up over generations.

Why do we need them?
Most of us are aware that polytunnels extend the growing season, and growers in Kent can now pick fresh fruit from April to November. Polytunnels also protect the developing crop from rain, hail, birds and wind damage, and the covers reduce the need for pesticides.

With the more predictable growing conditions, farmers are able to increase the reliability of supply to their customers, also securing their market against foreign competition and reducing our food miles.

The better working conditions that polytunnels create also improve the labour forces productivity and reduce waste. The higher yield means fruit grown in polytunnels has a lower carbon footprint than fruit from uncovered fields.

We as customers benefit from a reliable supply of high-quality, competitively priced and extremely healthy food that previous generations would have considered a luxury.

Soft fruit grown in the open now is for niches such as pick-your-own and the small organic sector worthwhile but not large-scale options.

It is now hard to find a soft fruit growing nation where farmers leave their crop to the mercy of the elements. The planning system imposes controls, particularly in areas of landscape designation such as Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Conflicting visions
By and large, those who live in the countryside muddle along pretty well with those who work the soil. A few generations back they were of course one and the same. Today the countryside being a place of retreat for many who have settled there, is a place of work for others and this can create conflict, particularly when the realities of modern agriculture dont quite chime with the rural idyll. However, this is not new and I am sure that hop wirework was just as shocking to our forbears.

I am passionate about the Kent countryside and believe we should protect it. Discussion about agricultural development (like other forms of development) needs to be carefully considered and a balanced approach is essential. The desire of todays farmers to seek a return from their investment in the land is no different from that of their ancestors.

Competitive forces result in processes which might be less pleasing to the eye than the ones they have replaced.

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