Machinery and products lined up for Four Oaks

A visit to the Four Oaks Trade Show is essential for growers and retailers to keep up with the latest developments across the horticulture industry, writes Sally Drury.

Boom irrigation: new system from Rotomation can save water as well as labour- image: Rotomation
Boom irrigation: new system from Rotomation can save water as well as labour- image: Rotomation

The Four Oaks Trade Show is an event not to be missed if you want to keep up to date with the latest in horticultural machinery, glasshouse technology, polytunnels and all the consumables such as pots, composts and fertilisers. There are products and services for retailers too, including new display units, fresh marketing ideas and consumer-appealing lines such as decorative planters and garlands.

  • Follow the latest news and updates from the show in Horticulture Week's Four Oaks LiveBlog.

Potting can be tedious, but Hortec Grow with Technology proposes a solution in the shape of Javo's most advanced machine. The Plus M2.0 is a versatile workhorse, suitable for 10-32cm (12 litres) pots. It can fill and drill for potted plants, is a champion with bare-root stock and is large enough to handle a variety of greenhouse and nursery challenges. An easy central adjustment enables quick changes between pot sizes.

As a specialist supplier of horticultural machinery, the Rotomation range includes transplanters, tray fillers, potting machines, seeding machines, compost-handling equipment and spraying kit. New this year is a boom irrigation system.

"Watering is one of the most important and labour-intensive jobs on the nursery," says company director Philip Ashton. "Large savings in water and labour can be achieved due to accuracy of watering, leading to a much more uniform crop. "

WS Barrett & Son will be displaying an extended range of electric vehicles in pedestrian and ride-on formats. The Beva Cub is a pedestrian-operated platform model with 650kg capacity, while the Tug and ride-on model are capable of towing up to 480kg - four laden Danish trolleys.

All the units are powered by two 12V batteries and driven by a transaxle motor/gearbox unit. Speed is up to 3.5mph. Expect a shift of work from the batteries before an overnight charge is required via the on-board charger.

Protected cropping

Plantopia will be launching the All Climate commercial greenhouse system. Fully opening in less than two minutes, the structure's moveable roof allows rain and sunshine to reach the crop while giving all the protection of a greenhouse. The roof consists of rigid, injection moulded polycarbonate panels that are electronically operated. Plantopia also invites growers to a demonstration of the new system at its nurseries near Lancaster.

With more than 50 years of experience in the polytunnel industry, Fordingbridge has used its knowledge and expertise to develop a hybrid structure for professional growers and retailers. High-tensile Z35 steel is employed alongside aluminium by the company that pioneered the use of a swaged joint system that allows tubes to sleeve together for a low-cost, strong joint.

Heating will be the subject on the Thermobile stand as the Warwickshire-based company shows off its new ITA Series of indirect fired paraffin/diesel heaters. Improved in a number of areas, the heaters now come equipped with a maximum thermostat. Switchbox protection against moisture has been upgraded and now sees an increased IP class rating.

Three models are available in the ITA Series, giving outputs of 85,000Btu/hr, 154,000Btu/hr and 239,000Btu/hr (25kW, 45kW and 70kW), and all models have a fuel tank capacity of 16 hours. Fuel gauges are standard on the two larger models. Also on display will be a selection of warm air heaters, including portable, mobile and stationary units operating on paraffin/diesel, propane, natural gas or electric and with outputs from 10,000Btu/hr (3kW) to 1,300,000Btu/hr (380kW).

Renewable technologies will come under the spotlight on the Ecovision stand. "Installing a renewable energy system (with Ecovision) can reduce your annual energy spend by up to 50 per cent and entitle you to valuable Government incentives, providing quarterly payments for up to 20 years," says marketing manager Jeorjie Monk. "Renewable technologies often pay for themselves within six years."

The company has 10 years' experience installing heat pumps and biomass boilers, making more than 5,500 installations to date. It will feature an award-winning full turnkey ground source heat pump solution installed for a 16-acre glasshouse - the largest ground source heat pump in the UK.

Petersfield: company is celebrating 25 years of manufacturing peat-free composts - image: Petersfield

Composts and fertilisers

Celebrating 50 years of growing media, ICL will unveil its latest advances in the Levington Advance Solutions package, neatly divided into "grow", "nurture" and "protect". The innovations to be highlighted include premixing the biofungicide Prestop into the growing media, leading to improved convenience and accuracy as well as helping to keep labour costs down. Bedding plant growers should also look for the new Levington Advance Solutions mix for bedding.

Another company with history is Petersfield, which is celebrating 25 years of manufacturing peat-free composts. On display will be examples of the firm's standard range, some of which have been sold for 20 years and benefit from ongoing trials.

"Peat-free is no longer a technical decision for most growers but is a marketing decision," explains Petersfield sales manager Neil Williams, who incidentally is also celebrating 25 years with the company. "By avoiding waste and recycled products we can achieve the highest levels of consistency and performance that professional growers need."

Petersfield's peat-based composts are also featured, having similarly benefited from the firm's trials programme. Customers using these composts have won awards including gold medals at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Wool Compost for Vegetables & Salads is the latest professional growing medium in the Dalefoot Composts range. The product is blended using sheep's wool and bracken from the Cumbrian Fells, and it contains a balance of nutrients to grow not only vegetables and salads but also fruit. High levels of natural potash from the bracken promote flowering and fruiting, while the wool element provides a steady supply of nitrogen and gives water retention to reduce watering by up to 50 per cent.

Solutions to nutrition dilemmas in the landscape, amenity and turf sectors can be found on PB Kent & Co's stand. The company is the only independent manufacturer of granule fertiliser in the UK. Its new Excel range of granular compound fertiliser will be on show, created from organic base, high-efficiency fertilisers. All products include seaweed for added benefit.

With four product launches at Four Oaks, the Hortifeeds stand will have something of interest to all growers. HortiKelp is a concentrated liquid seaweed extract principally derived from Ascophyllum nodosum. Major benefits are reported in increased yield, improved flowering and fruit retention, strong root development, better tolerance to environmental stresses and diseases, plus increased activity of beneficial microbes.

"As a bio-fertiliser, it provides a balanced source of macronutrients, trace elements and organic carbon. As a biostimulant, it promotes physiological responses that exceed those explained by chemical nutritional analysis alone," points out Hortifeeds divisional manager John Crinall.

Certified by the Organic Farmers & Growers association for use in organic cultivation, HortiKelp liquid carries 30 per cent (w/v) suspended solids, meaning significantly more bioactive material and plant hormone content than other seaweed products.

Furthermore, it is mildly acidic, whereas many other seaweed products are strongly alkali, and the extraction method used involves no chemicals, so the naturally occurring active ingredients are preserved for uptake by the crop.

Hortifeeds complete biostimulant HortiBoost will also debut at the show and claims to take plant nutrition beyond conventional fertilisers by combining a powerful package of 20 plant-available L-amino-acids, humic and fulvic acid complex, seaweed extract and major and minor nutrients for organic and inorganic sources.

A speciality growing-media conditioner, designed to revitalise media suffering from high EC levels and dry patches, is found in Hortifeeds' HortiFlush, while new organo-mineral slow-release top-dressing fertiliser HortiTop High-K will appeal to growers of container trees and shrubs. With analysis 10-4-18 + 2MgO + 4CaO, it provides hungry, tried plants with rapid recovery from hard times and is designed for use from spring to late autumn.

A further selection of biostimulants will be featured by Amtech Amenity, including Vitali-T broad-spectrum biostimulant, Alga Flex maximum strength liquid seaweed extract and ChitoBoost, an exciting development that contains five per cent w/w Chitosan Hydrochloride and can be used on its own or in tank mixes with conventional pesticides.

Due to be launched on the Amtech Amenity stand are water and irrigation system cleaners made from plant extracts. OxyCure treats irrigation lakes for algae, including filamentous, single-celled and blue-green species. It can also be used to eliminate E. coli and faecal coliforms in fruit and salad crop washing systems. Should you have trouble with mineral deposits in pumps and pipework, check out the OxyFlow product on the stand.

Pots and containers

Offering sustainable and responsible solutions, Modiform is meeting the challenges and demands of the contemporary market by upcycling raw materials and turning them into solutions for growing and propagation. Eco Expert is a range of pots, trays and packs made from 100 per cent recycled card. Completely biodegradable and compostable, they also allow roots to grow through the sides of the pot into the ground and are suitable for bedding, pot plants and vegetables.

Also for bedding plants is the new Universal Bedding Pack in four-, six-, nineand 12-cell options. Every pack has a pop-up bottom for easy extraction of the root ball and each cell has reinforced walls for greater strength. Handle holes and label slots are found on all sides and unlike other pack ranges it is possible to put 20 packs on a trolley shelf instead of 18 - a clever trick that Modiform will be demonstrating at the show.

Should you be looking for a paper pot that is both sustainable and fully compostable, check out Modiform's PlantPaper. From Sungrow in Ribe, Denmark, the patented paper is completely free of fossil oils and can be formed into a pot without the use of glue. Said to be strong enough to be used in modern, fully automated nurseries, the paper is pre-perforated.

Jiffypot R2: remains dry around water - image: Jiffy

Fully biodegradable and with a rigid, clean surface, Jiffy's new R2 has all the original Jiffypot characteristics but stays dry even when exposed to water or humid substrate. Jiffy will also be showing FORMiT loose fill substrate that stabilises in the plug tray once water is applied, providing integrity that allows mechanical transplanting.

Plastics processing company Poppelmann TEKU has expanded its marketing tray series PT2556 with a version for 12cm MDF Coverpots. Thanks to their flat design, the trays offer a large viewable area and help bring out the best of printed pots. The open sides provide an unobstructed view of each pot and the marketing potential is further enhanced by label slots on both sides of the trays.

The new MDF coverpot series, intended for promotional activities, are produced using the in-mould labelling process so the label binds directly with the plastic melt. Once cooled, the label is permanent and makes an attractive gift idea for special occasions. Growers can design their own labels. A key feature is the internal edge on which the cultivation pots sit, allowing a water-storage area below.

Plug plant growers at Four Oaks should visit the Macpac stand, where new products include a large letter pack that enables up to six plug plants to be sent via Royal Mail for the price of a large letter. Pack LL312 holds up to 12 plug plants but with no extra delivery cost. In addition, Macpac is extending its 9cm plug range with the addition of the P915 single-pot version taking square or round pots and foliage up to 15cm.


Wondering how to display product? With experience in manufacturing bespoke wooden point-of-sale displays for garden centres and retail stores, C Jackson will attend Four Oaks with samples of existing ranges and new displays.

Labelling solutions will be essential viewing for growers. This year mono printers and colour label and tag printers will be featured by Codeway along with full automatic and semi-automatic labelling machines for pots and trays. "No longer is it necessary to buy many types of labels, paying for minimum order quantities and waiting lengthy production times. For plain stock it is possible to instantly print bespoke colour labels and tags," says sales manager Barry Day. "Using the latest RFID, barcoding and 2D coding, we can supply complete systems for batch monitoring from sowing through to plant passport creation."

Joy of plants will be launching a pay-as-you-go version of its Print Your Own Bed Cards service so retailers can maximise plant sales by quickly and easily printing bed cards whenever they need them without having to pay an annual fee. There are more than 13,000 UK plants in the Joy of Plants library.

"Our bed card printing tool has been extremely popular since its launch in 2014," says managing director Terri Jones. "With the pay-as-you-go option we are now making it available to many more retailers - those who need bed cards in smaller quantities or for whom an annual subscription is unsuitable, plus anyone who just wants to try the service."

Having provided ProEPOS systems to the sector for 15 years, Image Retail Solutions has added a new feature - the "fresh" customer loyalty scheme. It aims to provide garden centres with a marketing tool that can analyse customer shopping habits and use the information to target them with personalised coupons directly from the EPOS.

Customers simply scan the QR code with their smartphone to download the loyalty card. Once a card is scanned during checkout, information is stored about the transaction. As well as sending out targeted coupons, general messages can be sent to all fresh customers about new opening hours, new stock arrivals and more.

The Pot Company is teaming up with Wagner to offer planter trolleys and accessories

Latest retail lines

Anglo Eastern Trading has introduced a new range of colours in its Glaze Lite collection.

Thinking of Christmas and beyond, Atlas Flowers has stem, garland and cone decorations.

The Pot Company is teaming up with Wagner to offer planter trolleys and accessories.

Bathgate is launching Champions Blend all-purpose compost with Envil Foundation bacteria and fungi, Remin volcanic rock dust and Oceans Bounty seaweed extract.

Hotbin Composting will be at Four Oaks for the first time. The Hotbin reaches temperatures of 40-60 degsC to allow more types of waste to be composted in an urban environment.

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