David Trehane Snr was one of the true pioneers of the horticultural industry in his time. Without his fearless desire to try new things, blueberries and celeriac being the most prominent.
In 1951, David read an article in what was then The Farmers Chronicle (now known as Farmers Weekly). The article was written by a blueberry farming parson by the name of W.T Suckling, from Lulu Island, British Columbia, Canada and he was offering 80 blueberry plants, free of charge to anyone in the UK who wanted them. Only postage should be paid.
David was one of only four people to reply and duly took delivery on 7th March 1952, of the very first blueberry plants to arrive in this country. He planted them in his acid, heathland soil below his house here in Dorset and trialled them over the next 5 years before deciding to plant commercially. In 1957, his daughter, Jennifer, received a telegram informing here that 1000 blueberry plants would arrive soon on the Queen Mary and would she kindly collect them and help plant them.
Developing the blues
By 1963, the first plantation was cropping commercial quantities of blueberries and those early trays were marketed through Pouparts of Covent Garden. Fruit was packed into 8oz open top punnets with 16 to a tray. Each tray was despatched with a recipe leaflet to help customers use this new and unusual product.
Our first contact with a supermarket was in 1964, when correspondence was started with Sainsbury's. Marks and Spencers also joined the list soon after and we have never stopped supplying them in the years since then.
Another plantation of 2 acres was added in 1963 and over the course of the 1960s and early 1970s a total of 8.5 acres was in the ground. David Trehane snr retired to Cornwall, leaving his son, also David (but known within the family as Jeremy to avoid confusion!) in charge of the business.
Trying to keep up with demand
In 1996, we were operating tasting sessions in Smith Square in London, giving most people their first taste of blueberries. Back then, we'd offer fruit to people and the majority would ask what they were. By 1998, more people knew what they were but had never tasted them.
A couple of years later, Dr James Joseph, a scientist at Tufts University in the US, published a paper which described the phenomenal health benefits of eating an anti-oxidant rich diet, with blueberries coming top of the list of fruit and vegetables. We had already expanded our area by another 5 acres, anticipating an increase in awareness, but could not be prepared for the 156% year on year increases in demand that were the norm for the next few years.
At this stage, we were still the only commercial producer in the UK with the facilities to offer fruit to supermarkets.
We are now 30 acres, which will yield between 120 and 150 tonnes of blueberries annually when they come into full production. We are now a smaller part of a much larger UK blueberry operation, covering 300Ha (740 acres) and harvesting 1200 tonnes in 2012. Analysts expect the growth in area to slow over the coming years as demand plateaus.
We will wait until our latest plantings are fully operational before expanding any further.