DAVID Davies MP has praised the work of Monmouthshire’s fruit farmers after trying his hand at blackcurrant harvesting.

Mr Davies joined acclaimed local farmer Bill McConnel on his farm at Crossways near Newcastle for the summer harvest of blackcurrants. Like 90 per cent of Britain’s blackcurrant crop, the berries are destined to end up in Ribena.

As one of only 40 skilled blackcurrant farmers in the UK, Mr McConnel is an expert in producing the special varieties used to give Ribena its distinctive flavour.

He has been growing blackcurrants for the much-loved juice drink brand since the early 1970s, although the McConnel family’s association with Ribena goes back longer. Mrs McConnel’s grandfather grew blackcurrants in Somerset in the 1950s.

With a bumper harvest ahead, Mr McConnel’s blackcurrants contribute to the 12,000 tonnes of crop that go into making Ribena Original and No Added Sugar every year.

David Davies MP harvesting blackcurrants with local farmer Bill McConnel.

David Davies MP harvesting blackcurrants with local farmer Bill McConnel.

Once harvested, the blackcurrants are transported across the Severn Bridge and down the M5 to Thatchers Cider in Somerset to be processed.

“Blackcurrant farming plays a very important role in the local economy, from the fields of Monmouthshire to the factory in Coleford where Lucozade Ribena Suntory employs over 400 people,” said Mr Davies.

“Without the hard work and commitment of growers such as Bill McConnel, Ribena would not be the success story it is today.

“There is a lot of bad news in agriculture at the moment, with milk and lamb prices particularly depressed. So it’s always nice to hear there are some sectors doing well.

“Having worked on a farm myself about 25 years ago, I was certainly impressed with the level of mechanisation used to harvest the blackcurrants.”

McConnels Farms also supplies cider apples to Heineken for Bulmers and to Gwynt y Ddraig cider in Pontypridd.

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