Fruit-growing in the Carse of Gowrie. Dundee Evening Telegraph, Tuesday 16 June 1885, p.2 col.2 (pdf image)
(Letter undated, published June 16 1885)
This letter (originally to the Glasgow Herald) from “Mr Pat Matthew, Walnut Grove, Perth” describes “Fruit-growing in the Carse of Gowrie”. Matthew notes that “many of the orchards in the Carse are much out of order, being moss-grown and generally neglected”. Matthew attributes much to this to wet seasons and improper manuring techniques, but he also notes the catastrophic fall in fruit prices due to competition from America: “I know of one orchard, which has between 6000 and 7000 full-sized apple and pear trees covering an area of about 35 acres which did not yield £l0 for the whole, and for several years did not yield £l00. The same orchard I have known yield about 250 tons, but then the price fell so low that it would not pay to gather and send them to the market”. Matthew is presumably referring to his own intimate knowledge of the orchard at Gourdiehill, which the family was forced to sell in 1880: “I would advise no one to plant many apple or pear trees in this country”, he adds. The piece ends by suggesting the Government impose a tax on foreign imports of fruit. Ironically, this type of anti-free market protectionism was something that Patrick Matthew Sr was very much opposed to. Even more ironically, it is these forces of a globalised free-market economy – forces that Patrick Matthew Sr so much espoused – that have led to the downfall of Gourdiehill.
Note that 35 acres is about 14 hectares, and that Wulf Gerdts (Matthew Saga Vol 1 p.4) states that the 1861 census gave 20 hectares for the whole Gourdiehill estate. This leaves 6 hectares for other farming activities. The letter indicates that the tree density for the orchard was 430-500 trees/ha.
FRUIT-GROWING IN THE CARSE OF GOWRIE.
Mr Pat. Matthew, writing from Walnut Grove, Perth, to the Glasgow Herald, says:— Having read a report in the Dundee Advertiser of the 11th by a correspondent of the Glasgow Herald on fruit-growing in the Carse of Gowrie, &c., I beg to call attention to some remarks which I think are rather misleading. In the first place, I quite agree that many the orchards in the Carse are much out of order, being moss-grown and generally neglected; but the wet seasons have done more to spoil them than any other cause. If apple and pear trees are much manured in this country, and wet, cold summer and autumn follows, the winter is almost sure to kill the new growth. I think they would be better without manure in that case. The manuring forces a quick, tender growth which takes a warm summer and autumn to ripen, otherwise it will be found that those shoots are all dead in the spring. Also, by forcing those shoots, the strength of the tree is kept from forming flower buds. Some kinds are much more liable to be hurt than others, so care should be taken not to manure or force them to extra growth. In large orchards, especially in the Carse of Gowrie, I think that pruning and deep ploughing will pay better than manuring; by this means a natural growth is procured which will make a much hardier tree, and that is what is most wanted in this uncertain climate. In the second place, I quite agree with the Carse growers who said that growing trees in big pits protected by rubble walls as they do in the Continent would not pay here, simply because we have no climate to suit such kinds as are grown in that manner on the Continent. It is quite possible that an acre of Carse orchard yielded £45 for a particular year, but that was in those times when there was no importation from America. Then our winter keeping apples brought a fair price, but now they are hardly saleable. I do not think that Carse orchards have averaged £10 an acre for the last ten years. I know of one orchard which has between 6000 and 7000 full-sized apple and pear trees covering an area of about 35 acres which did not yield £10 for the whole, and for several years did not yield £100. The same orchard I have known yield about 250 tons, but then the price fell so low that it would not pay to gather and send them to the market. It is also mentioned that from four to twenty hampers of 80 lbs. each ought to be the yield of a fair-sized well-tended pear tree. I think it would have been nearer the truth to have mentioned one to four hampers as the quantity. I believe that twenty hampers have been taken from one tree in the Carse, but that is a rare thing, and I am quite sure, taking all the pear trees in the Carse, that they will not average anything like two hampers, even in a very good year. And as to the price, well in a big crop, taking all qualities into account, they will not average more than ½d per lb. wholesale, after railway carriage and gathering has been deducted. The prices mentioned for small fruits are also far above an average. Last year blackberries were sold at 1½d per lb., and strawberries as low as 1d per lb., and a great many lost for want of a market even at that price, but I think that in certain localities where the soil is of a good black loam small fruits can be grown profitably, but on stiff clays I think it is a great mistake to plant them. I would advise no one to plant many apple or pear trees in this country, and those that have orchards should graft their trees with early varieties both for table and cooking purposes. We cannot compete with America for the later kinds, and the jellymakers also want early juicy apples to make juice for their small fruits. In conclusion, I think that a tax of say 2s 6d per cwt. on all foreign apples and pears imported into this country would be a considerable advantage to home growers, and also help the Government in its present difficulty.