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UK: Record number of visitors at Fruit Focus 2015

A record number of visitors from across the country headed to Kent this week to attend the UK’s premier fruit event, Fruit Focus. Just under 1300 visitors attended the show, which took place at East Malling Research, Kent on 22 July, to see the latest agronomy, technology and machinery being displayed by 128 exhibitors, also a record.

New technology
There was plenty of cutting edge technology on show. Agrovista demonstrated ongoing developments in its soft-fruit tunnel monitoring systems to improve irrigation practice and disease management using telemetry and software.

The company also launched a new fireblight early warning service enabling preventative or antagonistic sprays to be applied more accurately, and demonstrated novel mapping and scanning techniques produced by drones to better manage crop variability.

Hutchinson showed Omnia Fruit Vision, a system that could count and grade apples and provide yield analysis on the tree. Hutchinsons also announced that its Omnia nutrient and precision farming support system would be extended into fruit.

French supplier Janny MT highlighted its new controlled atmosphere process to preserve produce using modules in conventional cold stores.

Pacepacker Services exhibited some of its latest robotic innovations, including the Retail Tray Loading system (RTL) fitted with suction grippers that could gently lift and pack up to 144 packs/minute into crates.

Tractors from John Deere’s latest 5G Series for 2015 made their debut on Burden Bros Agri stand. The range included four models Stage IIIA engines from 75-100hp aimed mainly at orchard and vineyard work.

Agronomy updates
Wholesale tree nursery Frank Matthews showed two new cherry varieties from Pico. Starblush and Stardust have large, white-fleshed fruits and pick mid- and mid-to-late season.

Engage Agro Europe launched a new silicon nutrient for foliar and irrigated application to increase the strength, growth and health of crops by boosting cell strength and increasing speed of growth.

Legro explained how research with two industry partners had shown how the company’s optimum substrate, Legro Blue Berry CP Optima, allowed blueberries to be grown in the same container for up to eight years.

Research on show
Important research highlighted at the event included Fruit Focus host East Malling Research’s focus on Apple Replant Disease (ARD) evolution and rootstock interaction (ARDERI) to provide information to help develop breeding programmes.

EMR also hosted the popular research tours, which this year included enhancing natural pollinating insects in fruit crops and controlling western flower thrips with predatory mites. EMR’s WATERR project also featured, highlighting improving water use efficiency when irrigating fruit.

AHDB Horticulture presented information on two new research projects. One aimed to predict the onset of stress in strawberry crops before it becomes visible; the other investigated Verticillium wilt control using beneficial fungi to boost the plant’s defence mechanism.

Agrii showed off a simple pruning technique to save the cost of planting twin-stem apple trees. It is being tested on the company’s iFarm on the East Malling Research estate to see if it can produce similar benefits, such as more even growth and better quality fruit.

Live demos

The live demonstration arena showcased some exciting new developments, including the ultra-compact Orvin Baby Compact tower sprayer from Canterbury-based Kirkland UK

Koppert showed its RotaBug biological agent applicators that include a pedestrian-operated device for ground or low-height strawberry beds, and a tractor-mounted version for table-top systems.

Fruit Forums
Fruit Focus underpinned its reputation for hosting one of the sector’s most popular forum programmes where growers can listen to and debate with leading industry figures.

This year’s opening topic looked at ways to increase fruit consumption and reverse the decline in UK self-sufficiency and attracted a capacity audience.

DEFRA minister George Eustice said the government’s recently announced food and farming plan, a 25-year industry-led strategy to boost UK farm output, would identify the ingredients to deliver growth. Three key elements would help successful delivery - adoption of new technology, especially in plant breeding, improving skills and better market access.

NFU deputy president Minette Batters said growth was a key priority to tackle the long-term decline in self-sufficiency, which over the past 30 years had fallen from 78% to around 60%.

Declining investment in R and D, a lack of affordable labour and weak bargaining power in the supply chain meant domestic output had failed to keep up with the rising UK population.

The NFU’s Back British Farming campaign launched in February aimed to ensure the drive to increase food production was at heart of policy making across all government departments, Ms Batters said.

Ali Capper, NFU horticulture and potatoes board vice chairman, said the board was intent on increasing consumption of fruit and veg. “We need to contribute significantly to a change in the culture, helping society to eat more fresh fruit and veg – prepared, frozen and canned. More than one in six meals is eaten out of the home,” she added. “We need to start making on-the-go eating a much easier proposition.”

Beth Hart, head of the technical team for fresh foods at Sainsbury's outlined how the retailer was driving up its quality standards to meet the needs of today’s customers.

Existing quality specs were designed to permit a certain level of imperfection because they were a realistic reflection of what was achievable. But that “knowingly designed in” disappointed customers, she said.

Today’s customers had a wide choice of where to shop and would look for the freshest and the best. They were also quicker to complain, thanks to social media, which could quickly spread.

Investing in techniques and technologies that could deliver a better spec and measure performance, as well as building intelligence about what delighted customers, was key. That way Sainsbury’s could be confident of putting a product in front of customers knowing they would like it, rather than having to ask them if they liked it, she added.

For more information:
Robert Harris
Robert Harris Communications
Tel: +44 01424 883383
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