The decline of independent cider farms

2019 was one of the worst years of cider production in the UK not because sales were down but due to the amount of small producers that closed. Over the last five years the UK has lost around fifty independent farm producers, twenty four of which were in 2019. I regularly talk to producers who are not just my suppliers but over the years have become friends and I have met several characters who I have the utmost of respect for even though they still make me smile especially when I go on buying trips and am given tasters of their latest ciders in full pint glasses.

2020 for those who don’t yet know is the last year of our membership to Europe, for ciders this may actually be a good thing as the EEC currently have a new bill which will become law by 2021, this being the 92/83/EEC Duty Bill, this will bring in the ability to add 1.2% industrial alcohol to cider and perry during production. Also allow the current rule of only 5% juice being required to be called a real cider. Here in the UK the minimum juice is currently 80% and the Small Independent Cidermakers Association wants it to be 90-95%.

But I digress; when I talked to the farmers that were closing there seem to be two main reasons, one a result of global warming and the other the government being greedy through taxation. In fairness the taxation and increased duty only affects farms producing more that 7000 litres of cider and perry or just over 1500 gallons per year. The revised duty rates were changed yet again on the 1st October 2019, Alcohol Duties Act 1979 section 55B(1) and Excise Notice 162, but were in use since the previous April. There are three duty bands for still ciders:
(A) 1.2%-6.8%
(B) 6.9%-7.4%
(C) 7.5%-8.4%
Ciders of 8.5% and above are classed as ‘made wine’ and taxed at the wine rate, ciders with additives like fruit flavours will be taxed as ciders up to 4.5% any fruit ciders over 4.5% being taxed as ‘made wine’. Also ciders of 7.5% may no longer be watered down to produce lower ABV ciders. Incidentally the HMRC definition of Cider & Perry is the fermentation of apples or pears with nothing added with an ABV of between 1.2-8.5%.

According to CAMRA guidelines the Cider and Perry definition is very similar and states it is the fermentation of apples or pears with nothing added, no syrup or artificial carbonation or pasteurisation may be included.

In Shepton Mallet the Cider Mill which has been in use since 1770 is set to close with a loss of 127 jobs, the mill is currently run by the Dublin owned C&C company which is behind the well known industrial ciders Gaymers and Blackthorn. Although we don’t mind an industrial cider company closing it does affect the apple growers, with over 70 farms, of which some 30ish are in Somerset and the remainder in Herefordshire. C&C state the mill is no longer a viable option and the business will be moved to their Clonmel operation in the Republic of Ireland, they will then export the ciders back to the UK, bit of Irish logic at work there we think or making full use of the European fake cider rules of the low juice content in their ciders is a more likely option.

As to global warming, this has increased the risk of flooding; many will remember the 2014 floods in Somerset which flooded great swathes of farmland and orchards alike. Particularly across the Somerset Levels and the creation of flood defences along the A372 is now required. One particular cider farm in Aller which has produced cider since 1925 had to close its doors due to there been no access to his farm shop by the public after local road
closures and no access to local market towns to sell its ciders, Somerset Council have been seen to be dragging their feet and have recently stated that these flood defences are still several years from completion. High winds are also blowing the apples from the trees before they’re fully grown.

The Welsh government is to also bring in a new tax which is due to start on the 2nd of
March 2020, a new alcohol unit charge of 50p is to be added for all producers in Wales wishing to retail their ciders and perrys in Wales. This is 50p per unit of alcohol sold, one unit being the ABV as a integer, multiplied by the volume in ml divided by 1000 so a pint of 7.5% cider becomes: 7.5 x 568ml / 1000 = 4.26 x 50p an increase of £2.13 per pint! Are they purposely trying to cease Welsh cider retail sales? Of course the way round this is to sell to a wholesaler who will then sell it outside Wales and not incur the new tax?

Last lot of doom and gloom is down to Heineken who have announced an end to their cider apple deals. Up until now Heineken were buying a third of all the cider apples grown in the UK, mainly from Herefordshire and will soon terminate these deals with 180 farms, they were being used to produce Strongbow cider brand. Heineken have announced due to new equipment and brewing processes theses apples are no longer required to produce their ciders, yet they have increased production of these ciders. A total loss estimated to be between 6000 and 9000 tons of cider apples, farmers are now considering bulldozing their orchards, which is a real travesty.

So what can be done? Well if CAMRA stick by its guidelines and only sells real cider and perry at its festivals or at least separate the fake ciders from the real one and educate their customers to know the difference and buy more real and less fake ciders, advise pubs to do the same, stop pushing Mango syrup cider then there is a possibility that the small farms will gain popularity and stay in business. Nottingham CAMRA festival is a great example of what ciders to sell, always doing very well on cider sales and not stocking the fake or fruity ones. None CAMRA student festivals are heading in the right direction with
increased real cider sales although there are still fruit ciders available for those people who normally drink pop. After all you need some fruit pop to compare the real stuff against for educational purposes.

If anyone would like and advice on real cider and perry please use the contact form from our website which can be found at cidermen.uk if we can’t help you ourselves we can point you in the right direction enabling you to get the information you require.

Andy Parkin
Ciderman UK

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