British-grown seedless grapes are set to be available for the first time, as East Malling Research and Asda launch an ambitious project to discover the feasibility of growing UK table grapes, rather than relying on imported fruit. This will be the first time that seedless grapes have been grown on UK soil on a commercial level.
The grape planting will see a number of different varieties – green, red and black – being grown at the site in Kent. It is predicted that the vines, which have been imported from Spain, Italy and Greece, will be providing fruit in as quickly as two years; and that the project will be commercially viable by 2016 as the vines mature and produce more crop as they age.
The grapes will be harvested during the European grape season – from August to October – and will include both open-air production and vines under polytunnel; the covered grapes should grow more quickly and also have the potential of extending the season, which means that British grapes could soon be on Asda shelves for up to three months each year.
Although this is the first time seedless grapes have been grown in the UK, Kent is a well-known wine growing region; its climate and soil have often been compared favourably to the French ‘Champagne region’ and, with the effects of climate change, may soon be able to produce a wider range of more exotic fruits such as apricots, kiwifruit and melons.
Dr Chris Atkinson, Head of Science at East Malling Research, said: “We are delighted to undertake this table grapes trial in partnership with Asda, which has clearly recognised our wealth of experience and expertise in the development and evaluation of novel crops.
“By trialling 10 varieties of table grapes at East Malling, EMR is now in a position to lead subsequent UK research and development of this fruit.
“It also offers us a fantastic opportunity for us to gauge how the South East is being affected by climate change and to demonstrate how we can best adapt our growing habits in the region to continue to produce UK foods.”
Tom Murray, Asda’s Grape Technical Manager, said, “This is an incredibly exciting project which we have been working on since 2007. The thought of buying UK grown seedless grapes may once have been unimaginable, but this project has the potential to revolutionise the grape market. There’s nothing seedy about this project – we’re really excited to watch the vines grow over the next couple of years and to start eating British grapes.”
For more information on EMR visit www.emr.ac.uk
East Malling Research’s Dr Chris Atkinson, Head of Science, and Gary Saunders, Horticultural Manager (Science)