Charrington walk features at BIFGA AGM

Around 85 growers attended the 26th British Independent Fruit Growers Association (BIFGA) AGM and farm walk at the 45-hectare Charrington Fruit Farms near Matfield in the High Weald of Kent last week.

Owner Alex Charrington explained that four-row beds of Cox and Egremont Russet planted in 1989 were "pretty consistent and still very productive" and indeed could be sprayed in less than half the time required for single-row formats.

"We have been using (growth regulator) Regalis. Plus for at least ten years and couldn't do without it," he added. On fruit thinning agents, "I have to judge what the market wants - whether that's volume or fruit size," he explained, but that thinning a Fuji orchard could give fruit of an "unsaleable" 85mm-plus diameter.

All except Bramleys orchards are irrigated - "the key to consistency" - with fertigation also a feature of the newest orchards, while at a more recent Zari orchard, "we are easing ourselves into growing taller", he said, adding: "Zari needs heat - it won't set fruit in cold winds."

Canker is a constant concern. The most recent field to be planted was bio-fumigated first. Charrington Fruit Farms joined LEAF Marque last year and will be audited this year.

This February's Big Farmland Bird Count yielded sightings of 23 species including cuckoos and swifts within one half-hour. Buffer strips have been created between plantings and round a reservoir, which collects runoff from buildings.

Local John Deere dealer Burden Bros Agri gave a demonstration of automatic GPS-guided tractor steering. Precision farming specialist Chris Cormac-Walshe said: "You can use it for a variety of work which we see as much the coming thing. It can also plant with 2cm accuracy. One grower found that it paid for itself within its first year."

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