Cider and apple juice producers urge people to buy local to save the West Country's orchards

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It has been a wonderful year for apples and you might think that would be great news for fruit growers but the continuing effect of Covid-19 on cider sales in pubs and restaurants means they can't capitalise on their bumper crop.  

One West Country cidermaker says the coronavirus lockdown has had such a devastating impact on his industry that it could lead to whole orchards being levelled.

The problem is that demand for apples to be pressed into cider is very low. At Sandford Orchards cider works in Crediton, around half the tanks are still full of last year's cider because the pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants were closed for months during lockdown and not buying anything. 

A lot of bottle - the production line at Sandford Orchards in Devon Credit: ITV West Country

Barny Butterfield from Sandford Orchards says: "We've been making cider in this part of England for 2,000 years and I'm darned if we're going to stop because a bug's turned up."

He says they are determined to keep buying as much fruit as possible from the apple growers to keep them in business.

No one grows more cider apples in the world than we do in the west of England. It's our drink. We should be really proud of it but I do fear for those orchards. The chainsaws will come out.

Barny Butterfield, Sandford Orchards

Barny is calling on the public to help by swapping just one bottle of imported beer a week for something from a West Country orchard. He says: "Go and grab one. You'll be surprised how much you love your cider."

Charlton Orchards sells a lot of its products at markets so has not been so badly affected by the coronavirus restrictions. Credit: ITV West Country

At Charlton Orchards near Taunton in Somerset they grow mainly eating and cooking apples. They're older varieties, not the kind of fruit you'd usually find in the supermarket and this year's big crop is good news for them.

Duncan Small from Charlton Orchards says: "Most of our fruit goes through street markets and street markets, because they're outdoors, have thrived really well so we are selling most of our fruit."

The firm is also getting more business from local shops and is selling more apples by post. A lot of producers have swiftly moved into that field.

Luscombe Drinks set up an online service for its products in just a few weeks following lockdown. Credit: ITV West Country

Luscombe Drinks, based near Buckfastleigh, has started selling products direct to people's doors.

Gabriel David says: "In a normal business it would take you months to set up an online shop. But when it comes down to the crunch and you realise that actually nothing is coming through the door and you've got to pay people you say 'right I'm going to make it happen'.

"It probably took two to three weeks to turn into an online shop."

Producers are trying to remain positive in unpredictable times, not knowing if pubs might have to close again. They're urging people to help by supporting local cidermakers to protect West Country orchards for the future.

This year's bumper crop at Luscombe near Buckfastleigh. Credit: ITV West Country

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