This year's National Fruit Show marks the 80th anniversary of this Kent institution, a milestone that will be marked not just within the show itself, but also in wider events to engage the public with British-grown fruit, says show chairman Sarah Calcutt.
"We will have a display showing how the industry has changed in that time, and many
of the stands will join in," she says. "And we will host the biggest show dinner ever, with more than 400 guests."
The show will also branch out more into public engagement while retaining the core show's focus as a trade event. "Most exhibitors want it to remain primarily a show for the trade — they do good business there and there were some big machinery orders placed at last year's show," says Calcutt. "But at the same time there has been a feeling that more ought to be done with the public."
In partnership with Sainsbury's and AC Goatham, a two-day "celebration of apples" will be held at fruit growers Gore Farm to coincide with the main event. This will feature farm tours, cooking demonstrations and fruit sampling, during which Kent's tastiest apple and pear will be decided by a panel made up of the visiting public.
The event will be promoted by the supermarket using labels on some two million bags of British apples.
After the show, the fruit display will be taken on the road to be shown at a number of public venues, Calcutt adds.
Yet the core show remains a key industry event, at which 54 per cent of visitors are commercial growers and a further 40 per cent are professionals related to the fruit industry. It is also timed to coincide with the end of the top fruit harvest when such people have more time for a day out to meet up with friends and fellow professionals.
The show's layout will be reoriented this year, Calcutt adds, because the main pavilion at the Kent Show Ground is being rebuilt. But the show will still feature the familiar machinery displays, the iconic fruit display and the familiar fruit contests, where leading growers do battle in the Marden Fruit Show Society's competitions, judged over a wide range of categories.
By early August the show's exhibition space "had effectively sold out" and among the 90-odd exhibitors there will be 16 newcomers from home and abroad, says Calcutt. Among them is Sorbus International, a name more often associated with the arboriculture industry.
Managing director Phil Wade explains: "We sell literally thousands of pruners during the season, not just to growers but also for preparation and packaging. At the show, we will focus on two ranges of pruning equipment — the ARS range from Japan and the Metallo range from the Netherlands."
Describing the Japanese range as "the Rolls Royce of pruning equipment", Wade says: "It includes long-reach and telescopic pruners which will hold onto the fruit as you bring it down from height, as well as secateurs."
The Metallo range "also offers quality but is slightly cheaper", he adds. "Within the two
there are tools for pretty much everything."
A number of specialist crop protection products will be on show, including Compo Frost Protect from Compo Expert UK, in its first year on the UK market. A combination of cryo-protectants, the stabilising nutrient boron and the natural anti-stress compound alpha-tocopherol, it prevents frost damage to blossom and young fruit, while adjuvants boost uptake and effectiveness.
The show is also a shop window for smaller but up-and-coming horticultural crops. Among these, the revival of cherry growing under a variety of protection formats has been one of the most exciting developments in UK fruit growing over the past few years.
Aurel Voiculescu, co-owner of crop covering specialist Pro-Tech Marketing, says: "More and more growers such as Mansfields are putting in large covered cherry-growing areas."
While several such formats are available, Pro-Tech's offers flexibility and affordability, he says.
"Once you have the hoops in, you can use them initially to support bird netting, then a skin to protect the trees from rain when they are in fruit. Some growers have even switched from strawberries and raspberries to cherries under the same structures."
The use of diffuse film "also keeps the trees cooler", he explains. "They can clip the film back for ventilation then put them back when it rains. And they are strong enough to withstand high winds."
He adds: "No one system suits every grower — our success is based on being flexible in what we supply. And with strong demand for English cherries, a lot are now being grown in Scotland as well. As with soft fruit, they come in two or three weeks later so can extend the season."
He adds: "We have also started doing irrigation on a large scale for top-fruit growers."
Growers of hops, hazelnuts, wine grapes and even tomatoes have also broadened the base of the event in recent years, enhancing its role as a showcase for UK produce.
Event 2013 National Fruit Show
Where Kent Event Centre, Kent Showground, Detling, Maidstone, Kent ME14 3JF
When 16-17 October (Wednesday 10am-5.30pm, Thursday 10am-3.30pm)
Admission Free at the door — no need to pre-register, though this can be done online
Main sponsors Norman Collett, BASF, ICA, Agrovista
2013 National Fruit Show exhibitors