Kent growers celebrate achievements at fruit spraying and orchard awards

Top fruit growers in west Kent who market their fruit through Norman Collett celebrated no less than nine times when the results of the 58th Goudhurst & Paddock Wood Fruit Spraying & Orchard Management Competition were announced.

The competition - managed by the NFU - took place on 30 July and was this season for the first time sponsored by the Kent-based fruit marketing company.

Overall champion was Alan Firmin, a member of Mid Kent Growers, whose Blue House Farm, Marden, provided the setting for the traditional orchard walk for more than 50 growers prior to the prize giving.

The guests were guided through the 75ha of Cox, Bramley, Conference, Egremont Russet, Braeburn and recently planted Cameo as they discussed the forthcoming season with Alan Firmin top and soft fruit manager Brian Tompsett. New cultural techniques were also discussed - in particular, the benefits of framed growing systems.

Tompsett has retro-fitted "table-top" supporting structures to young Braeburn orchards, which will increase yield by 10 tonnes/ha.

Pear-framing systems have been employed for young Conference plantations to improve yield, fruit set and quality.

Norman Collett managing director Andy Sadler congratulated all the competition entrants and said: "English apples and pears are recognised as a high-quality product, reflected in the fact that the event has been attended by senior executives from Tesco - including senior buyer David Croxson, category technical manager Edward Palmer and technical manager for top fruit John Worth."

The numerous farm entries were judged over three days by an independent panel of technologists and industry experts.

Farms were scrutinised for good growing and management practice and how entrants implemented environmental conservation and management strategies.

They were also judged on their success in reducing chemical inputs and the use of alternative therapies.

Other classes of excellence in which Alan Firmin was recognised were:

- the BASF trophy for ongoing improvements achieved since the previous year's entry;

- the KEF trophy for the highest marks in Class II;

- the group secretary award for management.

Bardsley & Sons, of Heronden Farm, scooped the UAP trophy for the most praiseworthy entry - judged on the quality and quantity of Cox apples - and also achieved the second-highest mark for Class I presented by Willis Corroon South.

GH Chambers of Northiam Farm won the LEAF trophy, and shared the Bayer UK trophy for coming third in the entire competition.

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