Primary showcase

The very latest machinery, fertilisers, composts, pots, packaging, glasshouse kit and retail products will all be on display for Four Oaks visitors, writes Sally Drury.


Cultivation, both indoors and out, is the theme on stand OP22 as Campey and its agricultural arm, JC Machinery, combine to show growers the latest range of New Holland tractors, Vredo seeders and Imants rotovators and spaders.

The display includes the 27 series Imants Spader, a machine that can replace traditional ploughing, cultivating and incorporation processes. It is now available for smaller-acreage growers and farmers working in more confined spaces. Models range in widths from 1.2m to 1.8m, with the narrow models being suitable for use in greenhouses, nurseries, and vineyards as well as for small production of fruit and vegetables. With weights from 580kg to 700kg, the units easily mount onto tractors from 45hp to 80hp.

More machines designed for growers are displayed by Blec Global on stands D131-132a. The Peterborough-based company has one of the widest ranges of horticultural, landscaping and grounds maintenance machinery, both walk behind and tractor-mounted, available in the UK. It is showing laser-guided power box rakes and laser graders as well as specialist two-wheel tractors.

Blec managing director Gary Mumby says: "Having been a landscape contractor myself and having worked with so many growers over the years, it has helped us develop specialist machinery ideally suited to their needs."

Mumby and wife Sue founded the company in 1986 and have built the business to become worldwide manufacturers and distributors. Machines on show at Four Oaks have been proven successful within glasshouses and are ideal for preparing level seedbeds. The Blec laser-guided power box rakes and laser graders, for instance, provide accurate levelling of soil and stone inside glasshouses as well as polytunnels.

"Growers are realising how important accurate levelling is for drainage and irrigation. Laser graders and power box rakes are capable of dual grading to produce either a gradient or a flat surface," says Mumby. Machines are available with working widths from 1.5m to 3m for use on tractors from 30hp to 100hp or more.

To assist with the unloading of pallets of growing media and the loading of trolleys at despatch, Forkway Group is showcasing its new AUSA range of compact Rough Terrain and Telehandler forklift trucks on stand OP28.

"The AUSA products are ideal for work in the grower and horticultural markets due to their rough-terrain qualities and compact design," explains AUSA UK product manager Andy Barlow. "The low height of the machines allows them to work in greenhouse environments and tunnels, together with the capability of accessing containers." The machines have lifting capacities from 1.3 to five tonnes and lift heights of up to 7m.

Forkway also specialises in flexible finance packages, including low-deposit and interest-free purchase, together with fixed-rate contract hire agreements with full maintenance and service. On show days, visitors can expect special offers and competitions as Forkway seeks enquiries for future on-site demonstrations.

For practical and ergonomic solutions to seeding, potting, transplanting and plant handling, be sure to visit Mechanical Botanical on A11-15 and Rotomation on stand A16-22. A range of Javo machines is exhibited by Hortec Grow With Technology on stand D107-109.

Composts and fertilisers

With green credentials based on composts made from recycled garden waste, peat-free growing media and soil-improver brand Vital Earth is at Four Oaks with its range of Container Nursery Stock growing media for professional users, alongside its retail range and that of peat-reduced sister brand Growise - all on stand C9.

The Vital Earth professional grower range comprises Peat-Free Container Nursery Stock Media - Summer & Autumn. Each product contains all the essential base nutrients, mainly in slow-release/organic form. Handling properties have been proven fully compatible with potting machines such as the SuperJavo and the products are designed for overhead irrigation.

They are also said to have excellent physical stability and drainage properties, allowing for strong root development. Added benefits include reduction in infestation by algae, liverwort, moss and other weeds, thanks to the surface properties of the products, while beneficial microbes reportedly enhance both nutrient supply and resistance to some diseases such as leaf spot.

The summer formulation contains slightly more green compost and less bark. It has more controlled-release fertiliser (CRF) to better match growing conditions. Where sub-irrigation is used, especially with sensitive crops under protection, growers are advised to use the autumn grade. Both products are available with or without CRFs and are supplied in bulk and IBCs.

Designed to increase plant health and improve disease defence and recovery, Maxstim Horticulture Plus is a naturally derived liquid biostimulant that works by helping plants absorb and process nutrients faster and more efficiently.

"More and more professional plant growers are discovering the benefits of regular applications of Maxstim Horticulture Plus," says marketing executive Tamara Gates. "These include faster germination, more prolific buds and blossoms, increased chlorophyll, boosted immune system, increased root mass and improved water efficiency."

She continues: "Plants that have been treated look more attractive and are more popular with customers of garden centres and plant nurseries. They last longer too, and are better placed to resist pests, diseases and infection."

Maxstim Horticulture Plus, shown on stand C57, is ethically sourced and can be mixed and sprayed with usual fertilisers and pesticides. It is safe to handle, store and use with no harm to humans, wildlife or the environment, making it suitable for incorporation into planned maintenance programmes and fertiliser schedules.

Pots, labels and packaging

The Aero NT plug and tray system is highlighted on Omni Solutions' stand (D39), while the colourful display by Modiform (D27-30/63-66) includes thermoformed pots from 9cm to 19cm (three litres), growing and transport trays, plug trays and a vast choice of bedding packs.

A new container range for professionals is launched on stand D35-36/57-58 as Soparco reveals the key benefits of SX containers. An eco-friendly conception in line with the company's environmental policy of material weight and energy-use optimisation, the containers provide efficient drainage through a multi-level bottom with 25 holes and six channels. They have a well-marked rim for maximal rigidity to aid handling and automation, and are available with four G2 slot boxes to fix labels or handles.

Desch Plantpak (C36-38/53-55), celebrating 50 years of supplying the horticultural industry and looking to the future, is also announcing a £2m investment in new tooling and machinery for its Essex factory. Marketing and area sales manager Chris Breed explains the developments: "We are redesigning our entire marketing tray range, which will be called the NexTraY and will be unveiled at the show."

He continues: "We are also retooling the popular AMC system to further improve quality and performance but without making any changes to the design, and our injection-moulded pots will be made on state-of-the-art machinery to give a superior-quality product."

As a major producer of labels and packaging in Holland, Elburg Smit can provide many ways to enhance presentation and add value to all types of plant packaging. "Innovative design concepts and products give growers many new options for plant presentation with picture labels, tags and handles, pot covers, catalogues and posters," says Elburg Smit UK sales manager Mike Sutton, exhibiting on stand D42/51.

"Our latest innovation is the Smart Wrap - a colourful way to give plants added value and greater impact at point of sale." Water-resistant and with a large print area, Smart Wrap provides opportunities for promotional themes and new launches. It differs from conventional wraps in that it consists of a single continuous piece of plastic or card, saving time and labour when assembling by hand.

Elburg Smit is also showcasing its EOS online label-management system to enable growers to manage their plant-label inventory online. The company's Visions library contains more than 300,000 plant images.

As well as conventional labels, stick-in sticks and loop-tag printing systems, Codeway provides the latest in radio frequency identification (RFID) systems technology. This can help growers in a number of ways, Codeway sales manager Barry Day explains: "RFID tags can be embedded into labels and stick-ins and also come in a variety of forms, from small ceramic tags to large tags for monitoring plant trolleys."

He continues: "Tags can be 'scanned' from up to 12m distance and information changed on the tag 100,000 times. The tag can be used to carry batch number, sowing date and history through to the creation of plant passport and despatch. Tags can be scanned automatically at despatch or when moved from area to area through RFID gates/portals or via handheld terminals."

To handle rigid plant sticks, Codeway also offers the ASE overprint machine. This machine has hopper infeed and is able to overprint barcodes, 2D codes and product information as well as encoding RFID tags with product trace information. Codeway can be found on stand E58.

Developed specifically for horticulture and taking care of many nurseries' needs, Passfield software is exhibited by Passfield Data Systems. General manager Tim Lamb explains what it can achieve: "Passfield handles a wide range of nursery activities including order processing, stock control, purchasing, customer-relationship management, labelling and production control. It links seamlessly to Sage and other leading accounting systems, and provides nursery operations with efficiency savings, turning time-hungry administrative tasks into 'one-click' operations."

Passfield is said to be easy to install. The company offers help every step of the way to ensure a smooth transition from your current system. Ongoing back-up is serviced from UK offices.

As part of its corrugated packaging range for the horticultural industry, Atlas Packaging is casting the spotlight on its Daffodil Carrier, created earlier this year for a customer in Cornwall. The box had to fulfil two key objectives. Firstly, it had to withstand travel by air to the USA without damaging the delicate contents within. Secondly, it had to look pristine and retail-ready on arrival at its destination.

The resulting box is constructed from a sturdy corrugated board, enabling it to be stacked horizontally in piles up to 2m tall on a pallet - the maximum height for air freight. At its destination, the box can be offloaded from the pallet and flipped 90 degs into a vertical position for maximum on-shelf impact and efficiency. A perforated lid is easily removed at the destination.

Glasshouses and equipment

New benching that can be installed by nursery staff is highlighted by KG-Systems on stand A54. Eaxy-Fix is a DIY system providing static, rolling and mobile container benching. Made of high-quality aluminium parts, the benching is based on a simple click or screw method, making it easy to assemble.

Climate controls and LEDs are demonstrated by Danish firm Senmatic DGT as the company shows three variants of its Logic Climate Control system plus the FL300 LED top-light fixture on stand E73. The latter, which was developed by Fionia Lighting and is produced and distributed by Senmatic, is a 500W fixture emitting light in the photosynthetic active region of the visible light spectrum.

Described as a "natural replacement for conventional high-pressure sodium systems", the FL300 fixture provides homogenous light distribution and up to 50 per cent energy saving with efficient grow lights.

As energy bills threaten to soar further in the future, Four Oaks attracts consultants and installers of alternative power. On stand A44 is Manco Energy, a green energy supply and management company formed to meet the growing demands for environmentally friendly fuel and efficient boilers to convert fuel into heat. Manco is Sole UK agent for Linka Boilers.

Vickers Energy Group, the only energy management company to have won the Queen's Award for Environmental Achievement for proven reductions in CO2 emissions, is also attending Four Oaks. On stand A29, visitors can learn how the company can help to reduce energy consumption, save money, cut carbon emissions and improve environmental ranking through a system that monitors and regulates temperature throughout a building.

Retail products

Just 12 months since launching into the market at Glee, BeeMat already has two new ranges joining its portfolio. The first introduction, EcoMat Companion Planting Mats, fits perfectly with BeeMat's existing range of pre-seeded, biodegradable growing mats and features two salad varieties - Oriental and Mediterranean - as well as a vegetable mat that includes carrots, sage and spring onions. Each mat in the range uses marigolds and other herbs as companion planting to ward off aphids and slugs.

The second introduction is the Living Tiles range. These ready-planted sedum trays can add instant colour to any garden and are expected to appeal to landscapers and garden designers as well as garden centres and retailers. Both products can be seen on E28, along with BeeMat display units and videos.

Haddonstone, known and respected for its garden ornaments and architectural stonework, is a first-time exhibitor on stand E223, where it brings an extensive range of designs from planters, fountains and statues to sundials, bird baths and balustrades - in traditional, classical and contemporary styles. All designs are British and made at the company's Northamptonshire factory.

More ornaments are exhibited by Pots of Distinction, including its handmade Dragon Ornament. Manufactured in Vietnam, it is made of ironstone ceramic, fired to more than 1,000 degsC and is completely frost-proof.

Doff Portland (E4-5) comes to Four Oaks with an entire rebrand plus an additional 50 new lines across multiple categories - including products for slug control, patio cleaning, lawn care, plant nutrition and weed control. National field sales manager Stuart Floyd says: "Innovative design and stand-out features have been a key focus for the development of the Doff Portland brand and the use of icons and strap lines has helped bring designs up to date."

New packaging is also highlighted by Bamfords Top Flight as the Lancashire-based company shows off its best-selling wild bird foods on stand E166-167. A family-owned company, now in its third generation, Bamfords is both a manufacturer and a wholesaler.

Producing a range of sustainable peat-free composts from bracken and sheep's wool on a small hill farm in the Lake District, Dalefoot Composts attends Four Oaks (E23) to show the six varieties now available - including Wool Compost for Seeds, Ericaceous Potting Mix and Lakeland Gold for improving clay soils.

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