Tunnel decision could mean berry hard times

A BAN on using polytunnels to grow fruit without planning permission could spark the end of strawberry farming in the Cheddar area

A BAN on using polytunnels to grow fruit without planning permission could spark the end of strawberry farming in the Cheddar area, worried farmers are warning.The historic Somerset industry has plummeted from scores of shops and pick-your-own farms, to less than half a dozen outlets.A High Court judgement ruled this week that planning permission is needed for the tunnels which protect soft fruit from rain.Farmers say it could be the final nail in the coffin for Somerset grown strawberries.Andrew LePrevos, owner of Tanyard Farm Nurseries in Turnkpike Road, Lower Weare, said: "I think it's ridiculous. People are saying they don't want the fields covered in plastic, which is a load of rubbish. "I can understand why people might not want it in certain areas but, on the other hand, if people want to eat strawberries we don't want to have to import them."Andrew has one-and-a-half acres of land covered with polytunnels and his business provides 120-130 tonnes of strawberries per year, most of which are sold to supermarket giant Asda.He said: "We grew strawberries outside for a while, without the protection of tunnels, and lost thousands of pounds worth of fruit due to the rain."Strawberries are so soft that, with a few days of rain, they lie in damp conditions and turn mouldy. Polytunnels make a huge difference."It certainly will make a big difference to the industry if farmers aren't given permission for polytunnels."It's very difficult to make money out of strawberries unless you've got a big crop. This decision is certainly not good for business."The National Farmers' Union (NFU) has already warned farmers they may have to take down their existing polytunnels and apply for planning permission.The NFU sent out the caution after the High Court ruled planning permission was needed for polytunnels at a farm in Hereford.Farmers believe it could have a detrimental impact on the UK's £300million-a-year soft fruit industry, due to delays caused by applying for planning permission.

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