This year's Fruit Focus, the fourth organised by Haymarket Exhibitions at East Malling Research (EMR) in Kent, promises to surpass the 2009 event, which was judged by a very large proportion of attendees as the best to date. Evidence of this is provided by the continued increase in exhibitor numbers, which are expected to easily exceed last year's 115.
"Everything is coming together very nicely for another good event," says Haymarket Exhibitions event manager Jon Day. "We've been organising Fruit Focus since 2007 and this will be the third year of the new stand layout, which has worked pretty well with a courtyard area skirted by tented stands and more around the demonstration area."
Apart from the record number of trade stands, the main attractions will again be the EMR farm tours, machinery demonstrations, Vines to Wines presentations and demonstration and the NFU and Syngenta Bioline-sponsored seminars, in which three leaders in their fields will be speaking. One is Waitrose director of food technology Mary Vizoso, whose main subject will be the issues of global fresh produce procurement in an expanding market. She will also discuss the need for supermarkets to ensure growers have sustainable, long-term futures.
Another seminar speaker will be Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board chief scientist Professor Ian Crute, whose topic will be the challenge for science and research in helping secure the British fruit industry's future. He will be joined by Defra parliamentary under secretary of state Lord Healey who will give views on the post-election landscape.
Vines to Wines
The Vines to Wines event, now in its third year, will include talks (featuring question and answer sessions) given by three of the wine industry's leading specialists. English Wine chief executive officer Fraser Thompson's subject will be sparkling wine production while wine-making consultant Owen Elias will be covering wine-making and Farm Advisory Services Team (FAST) viticulturalist Duncan McNeill will deal with aspects of agronomy.
The UK Vineyards Association will also have a stand where growers can get up to date with the latest news and developments in this expanding industry. There will also be a display of planted vines adjacent to the main showground.
All of the event's major long-term supporters - including Berry Gardens, Haygrove, Edward Vinson Plants and FAST - have booked stand space and there are some notable newcomers such as Jiffy Products, Claas UK and Platipus Anchors.
EMR Farm Tour
One of the most popular attractions will almost certainly be the EMR Farm Tour, which last year was particularly highly rated by growers. Visitors wishing to go on the tour need to book places beforehand on the EMR stand.
The tour will provide a broad insight into the centre's work in three research projects on strawberries including a five-year Hort LINK study being overseen by research team leader Professor Jerry Cross on minimising pesticide use.
He will tell visitors that so far the project's pest control work has involved the European tarnished plant bug, the strawberry blossom weevil and aphids. The tarnished plant bug is a big problem because it causes malformation of the berries. The insecticide used to combat it also upsets the bio-control of western flower thrips, another serious threat.
A three-pronged approach has been developed to eliminate the bug, including a tractor-mounted "bug-vac" incorporating a fan that sucks the insect out of the crop and kills it. The second idea is the use of white Alyssum, which attracts the pest and then kills it with an insecticide spray. The flower is planted in peat bags placed along the polytunnel leg rows so that the spray is kept well away from the crop.
Cross will also talk about a sex pheromone trap that is being used to monitor the pest. The approach his team is developing to control the different aphid species that feed on strawberries is to apply a mixture of parasitoids to the crop and spray aphicides in the autumn so that the crop goes into the winter aphid free.
Visitors will see a "super trap" developed by the team for controlling the blossom weevil. It looks like a large strawberry flower, which attracts the pest, and contains two products that do the same thing - an aggregation pheromone and a host volatile extracted from wild strawberry flowers. "We'll put a grid of 25 of these traps per hectare to see if they suppress the blossom weevil population," says Cross. "If we catch a lot we would spray locally with an insecticide like Calypso."
Another Hort LINK project, on deficit irrigation, will be described by Dr Mark Else. It is aimed at reducing the volume of water required to produce high yields of good-quality strawberries. The basic idea is to water half the crop's roots with a central trickle line allowing the roots either side - each side served by its own trickle line - to temporarily dry out. The irrigation is then switched to the outer lines.
Soil moisture is monitored by probes linked to loggers, which provide the data that allows the irrigation to be turned on manually. This year a telemetry system has been installed to trigger the irrigation remotely according to the soil moisture threshold value. If successful, this system will be used on four farms next year, the last of the five-year project.
Else will point out that on average growers use some 78 tonnes of water to produce one tonne of fruit "although some of the more water-conscious growers use only 45 to 50 tonnes". With his deficit irrigation system, however, the figure is a mere 10 tonnes without any loss of fruit quality or yield. He has just started a three-year Horticultural Development Company (HDC)-funded project using the same system for strawberries grown in substrate.
On the third farm tour, show visitors will see about 1.8ha of Finesse, the newest everbearer produced by EMR's strawberry breeding programme run by Dr David Simpson. The crop should be approaching full production by show time. The variety, which has already been accepted by Tesco and Sainsbury's, has some significant advantages over some existing everbearers, one being that it's not a proprietary variety so all growers are free to produce it.
In addition, Simpson says it is "fairly grower-friendly" with strong wilt and crown rot resistance and moderate resistance to powdery mildew. Furthermore, it produces very few runners "so you won't have to spend much time and money removing them".
In trials, Finesse has consistently produced higher yields than the indus-try standard, Everest, with similar berry size.
Finesse will be featured on the Meiosis stand with other recently-launched EMR varieties, Elegance, Fenella and Lucy.
Another new variety, Elianny, will be launched on Netherlands-based Visser Aardbelplanten's stand.
Among the numerous new exhibitors is BPI Recycled Products, which will be sharing the stand of its sister company BPI Visqueen, a regular Fruit Focus standholder. The recycling company is claimed to be Europe's largest processor of waste polythene, including old polytunnel film, converting some 70,000 tonnes of the material a year.
Among the products made by the company from scrap polythene are park and garden furniture, street and countryside signs, marine decking and refuse sacks.
Another newcomer to the show is Jiffy Products. Although it has served horticultural markets for 60 years or so, it has only just begun to market products suitable for the edibles sector, notably soft fruit. The company will be showing examples of substrate grow bags it has developed, the main material being coir processed by its new factory in Sri Lanka.
"One reason we're focussing on the strawberry market is because in recent years there's been quite a big shift from open ground to tabletop production," says Richard Stevenson, sales and marketing manager of Jiffy Products, which operates in the main horticultural markets worldwide. "Fruit Focus gives us the opportunity to show our products to the market and get to know its main players."
The same goes for Platipus Anchors, also new to the fruit market. It makes anchors for supporting orchard and vineyard trellis work and polutunnels. Previously it had concentrated on the landscape and civil engineering sectors.
Darren Caverdaschi, the company's sales and marketing director, explains that it has developed several sizes of its aluminium alloy anchor for the fruit market.
The anchor is pushed into the ground by inserting a sturdy steel rod into one end and striking it with a sledgehammer or pneumatic driver. The rod is removed for reuse when the anchor is at its target depth. A cable attached to the anchor is secured to the anchor post at the end of the trellis and when the cable is tensioned the anchor adopts a horizontal position to maximise its resistance.
"Because the anchor has a streamlined chisel profile it penetrates hard ground including chalk more easily than the screw type," he explains. "It's designed life is about 25 years which will match the life of wire trellis (support) systems. Platipus Anchors plans to show the anchor in use at the Fruit Focus demonstration area.
Another first-time exhibitor FLI Energy based in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, will be promoting its anaerobic digestion system for generating electrical power from organic waste material such as pomice and apple and pear rots produced by processors and growers.
The digester, which comes in various sizes, comprises a tank for the waste material, a mixer, a gas storage vessel and a combined heat and power (CHP) unit. Anaerobic bacteria in the tank produce a gas containing 50-60 per cent methane that is burnt in the CHP unit to generate electricity.
"The electricity can be sold onto the national grid to provide another revenue stream and the CHP produces a lot of heat that can be used for space heating and drying," maintains FLI Energy director Chris Long. "The material coming from the digester also has good fertilising value and its volume is more or less the same as that of the material going into it."
Also new to the show is Goplastic pallets.com, which will showcase a variety of plastic field-to-packhouse products including hygenic fruit crates.
Fruit Focus is regarded by another new exhibitor, Prayon (UK), as a good show to bring to growers' attention its concentrated NPK product and the ability to vary its formulation at reduced cost with the addition of potassium nitrate.
"A lot of the cost in NPK products is in potassium nitrate," says marketing manager Will Dale. "Our formulation of NPK does not contain potassium nitrate and so with a little bit of blending (with the addition of the compound) that growers have to do they can produce the NPK formulation they want more competitively."
He explains that Prayon recently took over part of Kemira's business, giving it access to a good source of potassium nitrate. This gave it more appeal to distributors in the horticultural market such as UAP, Hutchinsons and Fargro. The company's products are marketed under the HortiPray brand.
After several years' absence from the show, Produce Packaging has returned because, according to commercial manager Mark Baisley, "in recent years the event has moved on and developed a more appealing new format".
He says the firm's range of packaging is constantly diversifying to cater for all the needs of what is now a more or less year-round fruit market.
Norman Collett will be revealing details of its work tackling the continuing decline of insect populations, which this year is seeing its top fruit growers install commercially-bred native British bumblebees. Norman Collett is working with The Red Beehive Company on the pollination benefits of different species of indiginous bees.
Also exhibiting will be Agrovist, showing its new Fruitwise vertical growing system, while BPI Visqueen will release more details for plans for five-layer wide film production.
Meanwhile Landini will be launching a new version of its Rex tractor, offering a tighter-steering front drive axle, revamped main controls and new right-hand console.
Also launching a new product at the show will be Marco, which will show its new Production Control Module, designed to eliminate errors in packaging printing and labelling.
Last year machinery demonstrations proved a popular attraction. This year one of them will be staged by Pro- Tech Marketing, a regular exhibitor that sells a wide range of products to soft fruit growers including poly- tunnels, tabletops, bed formers and polythene winders and layers.
The company will be demonstrating its new mobile, steerable working platform in its harvesting mode for strawberries. It is powered by batteries that last for nine hours without the need for recharging. "The platform can be made to measure to growers' requirements," says Pro-Tech Marketing operations director Rob Tasker. "It weighs only around 500kg, can carry a 750kg load and can be towed by a standard car."
Claas UK is staging the other demonstration and will also have a stand for the first time to promote its tractors. Last year the company lent a tractor to another exhibitor and this gave it the chance to see what the show was like. It was suitably impressed, hence its presence this year.
The company's Elios tractor, equipped with a Cam Pilot automatic camera steering system, will be operating in strawberry beds although it can be used in any row crop including vines.
"As with all automatic steering systems Cam Pilot allows less skilled drivers to work all day without getting tired," claims Claas UK product manager Edward Miller. "It makes the driver's job much easier. The system works by colour recognition of the crop's rows or in 3D looking at the crop's shape."