A LEDBURY farmer is helping to launch a nationwide strawberry skirmish earlier than expected after unseasonally warm weather brought a new variety of the fruit on early.

George Leeds picked the first of his Sweet Eve crop last week ahead of its debut on high street shelves in Co-op, Marks and Spencer, Tesco and Waitrose.

He and his staff are poised to produce 1.5 million punnets for consumption after producers created a breed which is said to respond better to the UK climate, last longer and taste sweeter than ever before.

Mr Leeds said: “Everyone has agreed this is a good variety for customers and we know how to grow it.

“All the supermarkets are excited about it because it eats very well and it’s very sweet.”

The new strawberry will make up 700 tonnes – about 40 per cent – of the total crop at Withers Fruit Farm in Wellington Heath this year after previous trials at Withers and elsewhere proved successful.

Thanks to genetics, and hopefully a bit more sunshine to come, on site fruit pickers can also expect to be working from now until early winter, although the biggest harvests will come in August, September and October.

“This is our earliest ever and will carry on producing until early November,” Mr Leeds explained.

“But this new variety is much sweeter and better tasting than the traditional late season varieties.”