Fruit Focus 2016, the first since host East Malling Research (EMR) joined forces with NIAB, will bring together more than 120 exhibitors and is expected to draw around 1,300 visitors at EMR's Kent base on 20 July.
"This will be a landmark event, marking the start of a new era for Fruit Focus and the fresh-produce sector with the many benefits that the NIAB EMR partnership will bring," says event director Jon Day of Haymarket Exhibitions.
Looking forward to hosting the event for the first time, chief executive of the combined research body Tina Barsby says: "The new partnership between NIAB and EMR provides resilience, scale and the capacity for long-term investment, offering within a single organisation the research expertise to support progressive crop production at all levels in both the arable and fresh-produce sectors."
She adds: "We will be looking forward to sharing the benefit of our technical information and advice with visitors to Fruit Focus."
The event will showcase all aspects of pre- and post-harvest technology, machinery and equipment, and includes agronomy and business advice right through to delivery to the retailer.
"Fruit Focus is the perfect opportunity for growers of soft fruit, orchard fruit and vines to discuss the changes and challenges we are all facing - and catch up with the latest developments," says Day.
"We are showcasing some of the most sophisticated technology of any sector in the UK and being able to meet and question the people behind these innovations is invaluable," he adds.
Plant science will be to the fore at stands such as new exhibitor Levity CropScience of Lancashire, launching a set of products for soft-fruit growers at this year's event. Its managing director David Marks says: "We consulted with soft-fruit growers around the world and identified four key challenges poorly addressed by the fertiliser and agrochemical industry - shelf life, maturity, increasing yield without reducing quality, and stress.
"After several years of intensive development and testing by our team of crop scientists, we have a soft-fruit range and are looking forward to meeting growers at Fruit Focus so we can explain the science behind them."
The "smart fertilisers" include Albina, for improving fruit firmness and shelf life; Sulis, for colour and sweetness; Lono, to increase fruit yield and quality; and Indra, to protect the crop against stressful growing conditions.
Meanwhile, ICL will be showcasing its new surfactant H2Flo, which it says can reduce water usage by up to a quarter. "Water conservation is a key global ICL initiative," says Scott Garnett, ICL specialty agricultural manager for the UK and Ireland. "Trials of H2Flo have shown water usage can be cut by more than 25 per cent in field-grown crops while maintaining yields."
Applied to the soil via irrigation, H2Flo has the benefit of offering a residual effect over several weeks, Garnett explains. "The benefits are not restricted to sandy soil. All crops treated so far have responded well, including strawberries, carrots, potatoes and peppers."
ICL will also explain its specialist new sprayer water conditioner, pHixer, which adjusts spray tank water to an optimum pH of 4.0-5.0; Select PeKacid, a patented soluble potassium and phosphate fertigation fertiliser for areas with hard water or calcareous soils; and foliar feed Agroleaf Power, the new Agroleaf Liquid range and the all-in-one Agrolution Special range.
Substrate manufacturer Cocogreen is using Fruit Focus to highlight the issue to the UK soft-fruit industry in regard to the wider supply chain. "Substrate is coming under increased scrutiny in relation to retailer audits," says commercial director Thomas Ogden.
In 2014 Cocogreen became the first, and remains the only, company in the sector to gain accreditation to the Social Accountability Standard SA8000. "Unusually, we control our whole supply chain, from plantation to end product," says Ogden. "SA8000 gives growers peace of mind - a comprehensive standard is applied to our whole operation and not just the manufacturing end."
Cocogreen's stand at Fruit Focus will also feature technical advances including wetting and water conservation agent H2CoCo, winner of the best new professional product/service category in this year's UK Grower Awards.
UK Grower Awards 2017
The UK Grower Awards team will be giving away an Ascot hamper to one lucky visitor to the Horticulture Week stand 184 where the team will be on advising growers and other professionals on how the award scheme's soft, top and specialist fruit categories can help businesses meet their objectives - whether through marketing to new customers or refreshing team morale by rewarding great work.
The expanded range of fruit categories in the awards are once again being run in partnership with the Fruit Focus show and are prized by growers and others in the production world for the opportunity they provide to highlight achievement and excellence.
The benefits of winning are summed up by LJ Betts Salad Grower of the Year 2015 winner Stephen Betts: "We have got something to really shout about now. It has given us a new focus. What could be a better advertisement of our business and products, with our customers, our suppliers, our new employees, throughout our sector and the whole farming industry?"
In the live Demonstration Arena visitors will be able to see machinery in action with live commentary. Manufacturers taking part include JC Machinery, which will be exhibiting the Imants RootPruner and Spader 27SX150R - both machines with key roles in the growing industry, with the RootPruner eliminating loss of valuable water and nutrients, while the Spader 27SX150R offers high-quality land cultivation.
Other machinery on display will include models from Kirkland UK and specialist supplier NP Seymour, which will be bringing driverless tractor technology to the UK in the form of the ProbotIQ Xpert system that, as an add-on to Fendt Vario tractors, uses easy-to-operate patented Teach & Playback technology to allow the tractor to drive and operate autonomously.
Another major part of the event, Vines to Wines, organised by English Wine Producers and the UK Vineyards Association (UKVA), provides an ideal opportunity for visitors to find out about the many opportunities the wine-producing sector has to offer.
"Both newcomers and established growers have relaxed, easy access to some of the finest experts in the business," points out UKVA general-secretary Jo Cowderoy. "It's a great place to gather information, catch up with the latest innovations, top up your technical skills, meet colleagues and discover new opportunities - all in one very enjoyable day."
This year's vineyard workshops will focus on technical skills with independent adviser and ex-deputy chairman of the UKVA Roger Marchbank, advising on "Summer pruning and canopy management", as well as William Biddulph advocatng regular monitoring of vineyards for pests and diseases in his talk "Disease monitoring and economic viability."
Research and development
The Fruit Focus venue offers a unique opportunity to gain an insight into the work of the Kent research station, a site of advances in fruit production for more than a century. This year's tours include Dr Julien Lecourt's guide to the research vineyard, showing how pre-harvest factors and management affect plant physiology as well as post-harvest fruit quality.
Dr Robert Saville will discuss apple canker control, including the use of biological soil amendments to improve tree establishment, and will demonstrate a tree injection device to test various chemical, biological and defence eliciting treatments.
In addition, EMR's head of farm and horticultural services Graham Caspell will give an update on which of four different planting regimes within the Concept Pear Orchard is proving most productive.
NFU Fruit Forums: covering and debating major issues for growers
This year's NFU Fruit Forums will discuss and debate key topics. Chaired by NFU Horticulture & Potatoes Board chairman Ali Capper, the first two sessions will tackle the key issues facing the sector - labour costs and the loss of crop-protection options. NFU vice-president Guy Smith will discuss the issues around crop protection, while chief horticulture adviser Dr Chris Hartfield will cover the living wage.
"These two huge issues have a tremendous impact on the horticultural industry, particularly the fruit sector, and we will be highlighting how the NFU is lobbying in both Westminster and Brussels to reduce the impacts and create better outcomes for growers."
"Supply chains and consumer demand: fit for the future", following the recent NFU report Fit for the Future, will see NFU horticulture adviser Lee Abbey looking at how Government and the supply chain can help to increase fruit and vegetable consumption. Speakers will also cover the progress of the grocery code adjudicator and give an update on the "NFU Fruit & Veg Pledge" to improve relationships between retailers and growers.
East Malling Research's Dr Julien Lecourt will explore "Enhancing UK viticulture through world-class science", followed by UK Vineyard Association general-secretary Jo Cowderoy discussing the many opportunities in UK viticulture. Henry Leveson-Gower, who leads the UK's water abstraction reform at Defra, will inform growers on what they can expect from upcoming changes in trickle irrigation licensing.
Fruit Focus show details
When 20 July (9am-5pm)
Where East Malling Research Centre, New Road, Kent ME19 6BJ
Tickets Available online or on the day, priced £10 - includes catalogue, car parking and entrance to Fruit Forums, research tours and WineSkills Workshops. Visitors can earn both BASIS and NRoSO points.