National Fruit Show - bigger than ever

Organisers are promising a bigger and better event this year thanks to a move to new building at the Kent Showground, Gavin McEwan reports.

Visitors at the National Fruit Show 2014 - image: Marden Fruit Show Society
Visitors at the National Fruit Show 2014 - image: Marden Fruit Show Society

This year’s National Fruit Show will seek to build on the innovations and new housing introduced at last year’s 80th anniversary event, as it returns to the Maidstone Exhibition Hall and Hendry Pavilion in Kent. "Following the success of last year’s show, we are looking forward to an even larger show," says show chairman Sarah Calcutt. "The fantastic new building allows us to place the competition fruit at the heart of the action and gives great space to our exhibitors."

The show effectively filled up two months in advance and will feature eight companies that have not previously exhibited, she adds. At time of writing, an as yet unnamed VIP has been tentatively confirmed to open the event, while a speaker with a high media profile is promised for the show dinner that takes place in the venue’s Hendry Pavilion the night before.

Show organiser Maria Clarke says: "The show dinner being hosted at the Kent Event Centre site has worked exceptionally well for the past two years. Due to demand for the tickets, other Kent venues were unable to seat the number of guests wanting to attend. This year we have dedicated an area of the John Hendry to hold the dinner. The space will also be available during part of the show, giving additional recreational area and seating."

Broadcast media coverage of the event is also being negotiated. The fruit competitions [see box] remain the show’s centrepiece, literally and figuratively. "We have also had enquiries well in advance from growers who haven’t entered before," says Calcutt, adding that a new display for soft fruit and for trophies will enhance this year’s display of the winning entries.

In previous years the show’s displayed fruit has subsequently been presented to the public in various formats and locations, and this year will continue the tradition.

"We are taking a large chunk of the fruit to Noble House [Defra’s central London headquarters] where we will have growers and researchers talking about the importance of home-grown and land management, backed by a broad briefing paper," Calcutt explains.

Trays of winning fruit will also be delivered to 10 Downing Street, Buckingham Palace and St James’s Palace as well as being supplied to a community initiative in Canterbury, which Calcutt describes as a "dry run" for wider distribution next year.

Absent from this year’s show will be the industry seminars of previous years. "We have had some good programmes of speakers in the past but they didn’t get the attendance they merited," says Calcutt. "Really the show is about the trade stands."

Behind the scenes, moves are under way to ensure the event’s longer-term future, Calcutt adds. "We are going for charitable incorporated organisation (CIO) status — rather like a limited liability partnership and something charities are being encouraged to move to, which will mean better security for trustees," she says.

"We are also reviewing our management structure. We have the sponsors on board — they have signed up for another three years and are really involved with representatives at every level including on the judging panel and on the Marden Fruit Show Society general committee. We are putting together some robust future planning."

One of the four major sponsors, Avalon Produce, was only formed earlier this year from a merger of Norman Collett, the Fruit Growers Alliance and the Society of Top Fruit Growers, to form a fully integrated marketing and growing group.

Produce Packaging, meanwhile, provides the competition packaging. Hadlow College will sponsor the show dinner and Orchard World the pre-dinner drinks reception. This year the Bonanza Prize will be provided by drinks equipment and ­services supplier Vigo of Devon, which has supported the apple juice competition since it started nearly 30 years ago. The company is offering a cash prize of £1,000 to be spent on a business development project.

Competition classes updated

Prize money for the numerous competitions stands at more than £10,000 and this year some of the competition classes have been tweaked. Class 20 has been amended to include exhibitors of dessert apples under 40 years of age, while a new class 21 covers Bramleys shown by under-40s, with the winner claiming the Arthur Goatham Memorial Trophy. Calcutt explains: "These changes will see more entries in these competitions, which in turn is good news for the industry."

Show sponsor BASF plans to launch a novel integrated pest management (IPM) solution for codling and tortrix moth control in apples and pears, involving two complementary IPM techniques, pheromone mating disruptors for codling moth, RAK 3 and, for leaf rollers, RAK 4 plus entomopathogenic (insect-attacking) nematodes in the form of the Nemasys C preparation.

Marketing and value chain manager Rob Storer explains: "Two weeks before first moth flight around petal fall, small dispensers containing female pheromones are placed throughout the orchard. The RAK 3 and 4 pheromones flood the orchard and male moths suffer sensory overload, leaving them unable to find a female to mate with. These dispensers offer season-long disruption of egg laying."

Nemasys C (Steinernema carpocapsae) is then applied to tree bark, when codling moth larvae are leaving the fruit and moving into bark to pupate. "The nematodes seek out larvae, enter the pest and kill them," says Storer. "Trials in Cambridgeshire have shown impressive results, with codling moth numbers reduced by 95 per cent, summer fruit tortrix by 89 per cent and fruit tree tortrix by 99 per cent," he adds.

Fellow sponsor Agrovista will unveil two disease forecasting models at the show, part of a range of innovative fruit-growing technology that it is developing. Its Growers Choice Interactive (GCI), which it claims is the most up-to-date online disease and pest forecasting service available for top-fruit growers, now features disease forecasting models for fireblight and canker.

Agrovista agronomist Alex Radu explains: "The service uses weather data from a network of stations that is updated every few minutes. This, combined with pest and disease prediction software, produces ‘live’ graphs indicating risk of infection or attack from a range of pests and diseases."

There is no chemical cure for fireblight so growers have to rely on well-timed copper-based preventive or antagonistic sprays, adds Radu. "This makes accurate forecasting using our GCI service all the more vital."

Counting and grading apples

Agronomy services provider Hutchinson’s will show the latest version of its Omnia Fruit Vision system, which can count and grade apples and even provide accurate yield analysis in the field.
Precision technology manager Oliver Wood says: "Mounted on a mini-tractor unit and using a forward speed of between 6kph and 8kph, Omnia Fruit Vision takes 20 images per second and calculates yield and sizes of apples to a very high degree of accuracy. It provides information that allows intelligent and informed decision-making by top fruit growers."

He adds: "We are helping with the development of a new thinner that will reduce the need for expensive hand thinning and will complement this system well." Later in the season Fruit Vision gives size bands, assesses crop yields, predicts storage volumes required and even calculates optimal placing of bins at picking.

There will be "limited availability" of the system to growers prior to this year’s harvest, with a full service planned in 2016, says Hutchinson’s horticultural technical manager Dr Jonathan Blackman. "It is planned to offer different levels of service, including every row being monitored or a less specific one looking at, say, one in ten rows to give a rough idea of output. We invite growers to come and try the system in their own orchards this year."

The Omnia nutrient decision and precision farming support system is also being extended into fruit, he adds. "For whole field or precision applications, this offers multi-layered decision-making by importing and analysing multiple sources of data. It is already used widely and successfully in arable crops and we are compiling fruit data parameters so that our growers can benefit from it too."

Show details:

Event National Fruit Show
Where Kent Event Centre, Kent Showground, Detling, Maidstone, Kent ME14 3JF
When 21 October (10am-5.30pm) and 22 October (10am-3.30pm)
Tel 01732 874564

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