National Fruit Show 2012 - Preview

Growers will come together to discuss an unusual season and promote their businesses at this year's National Fruit Show, says Gavin McEwan.

Apple 'Red Windsor' - image: FPM
Apple 'Red Windsor' - image: FPM

Normally the National Fruit Show, which takes place this autumn at Kent Showground on 17-18 October, provides an opportunity for growers to unwind and exchange information on the season just past. But this has not been a normal season.

British Independent Fruit Growers Association (BIFGA) chairman John Breach says: "I hope the lateness of the season doesn’t make it harder for growers to attend this year. It’s the main show of the year for BIFGA members and they are sure to pick up useful information.

Particularly for growers who market their own fruit, it’s a chance to bring their brand to the attention of potential buyers — not just the multiples, though they will be there, but also the wholesalers and caterers."

Breach, who also sits on the show’s committee, adds: "This year will be bigger and better, with an extra hall." The John Hendry Pavilion will also house a new entrance and reception area for the show, allowing streamlined entry.

Commercial growers make up the majority of the show’s visitors, and while top fruit remains at the heart of the event, one notable addition this year is an area for the viticulture sector. This section will feature specialist tractors, sprayers and wiring installers. Soft fruit, tomatoes, cobnuts and hops are also represented, along with fruit processors and juicers.

Broadening appeal

Sarah Calcutt, chair of show organiser the Marden Fruit Show Society, says: "We are broadening the appeal of the show. Some fruit growers are already going over to vine growing and others may consider giving over a few acres to vines."

She adds: "All but one of last year’s exhibitors are back again this year, while we have nine new exhibitors in the main halls." Meanwhile, in a dedicated marketing area, displays of club apple varieties such as Rubens, Cameo and Zari will put the case to potential growers, Calcutt points out.

Central to the show are its many competitions, which now cover more than 60 categories. This year, a minor hiccup set back the distribution of the competition schedule to entrants, when the company that handled the show’s mailing went in to receivership.

Breach’s own company, JR Breach, used last year’s National Fruit Show to launch its new Cheerful Gold apple variety, and Breach now hopes that growers will be entering their fruit into the competition for the first time.

"Everyone who enters their Cheerful Gold apples into the competition will get a free Wilkinson Sword steel spade and there will also be a £50 gift token and a magnum of champagne to be won," he says, adding that he does not expect the variety to take the overall prize because "there isn’t enough planted yet — just a few thousand trees".

The coveted overall Tastiest Apple award carries a prize of £200 as well as publicity worth many times as much. For the past two years, this has been claimed by Rubens, with the variety making a clean sweep of the top three places at last year’s awards.

The prize-giving ceremony is scheduled to conclude the event at 3.30pm on Thursday in the John Hendry Pavilion. Calcutt says: "We have new classes. Some have said the competition was very Kent-centric, so we have a new class for growers from other parts of the country."

Agrovista UK has sponsored two new awards for growers from eastern counties — East Anglia and northern Home Counties — and the West Midlands who have garnered the most points from the main competitions. They will each receive an Agrovista Regional Champion Cup plus a cheque for £100.

Great meeting point

Worcestershire fruit tree supplier Frank P Matthews has long been a supporter of the show, which managing director Nick Dunn describes as "a great meeting point for our customers". This year, the company will be showing less well-known varieties from its German partner Artevos. "It’s an opportunity for growers in this country to trial new material," says Dunn.

One example of this is the blue-fruited Haganta plum, which he describes as "a very late variety with excellent flavour that also stores very well and could be marketed in late October into November".

Among the company’s recent own breeding on show will be the red-fleshed Rosette apple, which Dunn says is "already being planted on trial, with exciting results", while the Cox-like Red Windsor, a dark-red sport of Alkmene, is showing potential as a mid-season variety. "You don’t launch in one year and then sit back — you have to keep pushing them," says Dunn.

Frank P Matthews will also be encouraging cider apple growers to consider planting trees grown on M116 rootstock, of which it is the sole supplier. "It’s Phytophthora-resistant and, although it was developed at East Malling along with the MM106 rootstock, it was ignored apart from in New Zealand, where it performed very well," says Dunn.

"Now we are reintroducing it to the UK, where more variable weather is causing problems for trees on MM106 stock," he continues. "Cider apple planting goes through peaks and troughs, but as well as new planting we are seeing demand from growers who are replacing trees that have gone down with Phytophthora."

Technical exhibits

On the technical side, first-time exhibitor Ultra Soil Solutions will be explaining how its range of nutrient suspensions can benefit the top-fruit as well as soft-fruit industry. Meanwhile, another new exhibitor, QTS Analytical, will promote its rapid pesticide residue detection service.

Machinery is also a key strand of the show. Long-time exhibitor NP Seymour will present a new range of apple and winery equipment. Managing director Nick Seymour says: "It’s a really important date on our calendar and gives us the chance to meet our clients and customers and show them our latest machinery."

Online registration, at tinyurl.com/nfshow12, has been introduced for the first time and is already showing high levels of interest, says Calcutt, adding that the show remains free to visitors.


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