In this paper I shall examine strawberry growing in South West England and in particular problems associated with the protected crop in the early areas of the Cheddar and Tamar Valleys and of Hampshire.
However, developments in other areas cannot be ignored as they have to some extent created the economic problems which these early areas now face.
To put early strawberry production into perspective, table 1 shows the area, yield and value of the strawberry crop at the present time in the United Kingdom.
These estimates are based on statistics supplied by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and on our own surveys.
Although South West England in general and Cornwall in particular is known for its "early" and "out-of-season" crops such as potatoes, winter cauliflower and narcissi, it is the sheltered south-facing slopes which are particularly favourable for early production.
It is on such sites in the Tamar Valley and on the southern flank of the Mendip Hills around Cheddar, that early strawberry growing is centred.
Even in these favoured localities some sites are earlier than others and the crop is not confined to the "earliest" sites.
Low yields associated with an inability to irrigate, thin soils, steepness of slope and continuous strawberry cropping over many years have led to the abandonment of some of the older sites.
The free-draining soils of the Cheddar area, which are early to warm and sheltered from northerly winds, have been used for market-gardening for at least 200 years.
Initially early potato production was important but in the 1880's strawberries were introduced and spread rapidly.
Even now the industry remains highly localised, being almost entirely confined to three parishes around Cheddar, and within these parishes to land lying above the 50 ft (15 m) contour line and generally below 300 ft (91 m). Strawberries are the dominant crop, about 330 acres (121 ha), and holdings are small (60% are under 5 acres (2 ha)) and often fragmented.
Family holdings are common, most growers requiring additional help only for harvesting and planting.
Springs cabbage, broad beans and anemones are the commonest "break" crops but are not very profitable.
The intensive horticultural industry of the present day in the Tamar Valley dates from the mid 19th century.
Production is mainly concentrated on the riverside lands and in the dry tributary valleys of an area centred on the parishes of Caltstock, St.
Dominic, Botus Fleming,