‘There's never been a more perfect spring for our orchards’

Highbank Orchards went chemical free in 1986 and are now reaping the rewards

 

“I don’t think there has ever been a more perfect spring for our orchards,” says Rod Calder-Potts. “Nature is sticking its tongue out at us.”

Highbank Orchards, run by Rod and Julie Calder-Potts, along with their daughter Ruth, produces a variety of drinks and condiments, alcoholic and alcohol-free, based on organic apples grown in their orchard. The range includes a cider, an apple brandy, an alcohol-free cider, gin, vinegar, syrup, treacle, apples and apple juice.

The farm was set up by Rod’s great-grandfather in the 19th century. They planted their first apple trees in 1969. “In 1986, we went chemical free. The farm has now had time to completely restore itself and have a genuine symbiosis,” he says.

“When we first went organic, the trees almost died because they had no protection. It took many years, maybe 15-20, for the full natural symbiosis to come back. Balance develops all the time with birds, fungi and bacteria. It is beautiful to watch. We are the only commercial orchards in Ireland or the UK to be completely free from chemicals, including copper sulphate.”

Sales have changed under lockdown. “The on-trade is a monopoly of the big guys so Covid-19 isn’t actually hurting us that much.” They work with Neighbourfood, the click and collect supplier of local Irish producers (see Neighbourfood.ie). “It is fantastic and I hope people continue to use it. We are now in six different food hubs.” Consumers can also buy through the website, or visit the farm once they open up again.

“We made our first cider by mistake; a barrel of juice that we had forgotten about fermented by accident. Last year it was awarded one of the top 10 ciders in the world by Cider Explorer. The brandy is aged with apple syrup in stainless steel tanks. “It is now five years old and so much better than before,” says Calder-Potts. There is also an apple wine almost ready to be launched. 

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