What were the product highlights at this year's Four Oaks Trade Show?

Rated as the shop window for the horticulture industry, and proving a bumper year for entries into the Horticulture Week-hosted new products awards, Four Oaks Trade Show 2018 was packed with hundreds of new products for growers, retail buyers and landscapers.

Technical Excellence award-winner, Indo Lighting’s Indo Element - image: HW
Technical Excellence award-winner, Indo Lighting’s Indo Element - image: HW

Taking the award for Technical Excellence, Indo Lighting’s Indo Element attracted a great deal of attention for its long-term consistency and reliability over an extended life and with considerable whole life cost and maintenance savings. At the core of the new lighting is Direct Drive technology, a breakthrough that eliminates the need for a driver in the LED fitting. Instead it employs innovative circuitry mounted on the module. Maintenance is reduced to just a cleaning schedule, with no need to revisit the fittings at all after installation.

"What most people don’t realise is that the fitting, as a whole unit, will fail or degrade long before the LED chips themselves wear out. Chip manufacturers regularly quote 200,000-plus hours of operation but because of other, inherent wear-out components built into the product – primarily the LED driver – the fitting will have to be upgraded after only 50,000 hours. Where reliability is key to ensuring consistent yield, this, plus the constant light output and colour stability of our Chip-On-Board LED technology, gives growers total confidence there will be no change in output or any unplanned failure over the entire life of the fitting, in excess of 20 years. No other LED grow light on the market offers this degree of long-term consistency or reliability," says Indo marketing manager Bryony Light.

More technology was the talk on Royal Brinkman’s stand as the company entered a distribution partnership with 30MHz to provide growers with everything they need to set up a wireless sensor network and start remotely gathering crop-level insights to track the conditions of crops across the chain.  "Customers can choose the combination of sensors for their context and capture metrics including VPD, dewpoint, soil moisture, light intensity, temperature, humidity, wind speed, airflow and CO2 and provide real-time alerts, visualisations, heat maps, charts and graphs, traceability and shelf life predictions.

As growers seek to take advantage of the thermal benefits of twin-skin polytunnels, XL Horticulture picked up the Best New Product Award for its Evo Twin Skin cladding. Presented as two films in a single sheet prior to inflation, this de-laminable film eliminates the need to clad the structure with one skin and then over-clad with a second. Evo, the outer film of Evo Twin Skin, is strong and clear, while the inner has super-thermicity to trap radiated heat inside the structure as boasting lifetime anti-drip characteristics. Combined, the two films provide higher light transmission than two standard sheets and give a huge gain in thermal efficiency. An additional advantage is found in ease of installation — a task that requires less skill and is less weather-dependent.

With much debate over the use of plastic plant pots, it was refreshing to find not only new recyclable pots from companies such as Desch Plantpak, Pöppelmann, Aeroplas and Soparco, but also a solution to growing in biodegradable pots. The Skelly tray designed by Plantopia (pictured above) gives growers the opportunity to enjoy the growth and washing benefits of bio-pots to be combined with automated production processes. "They [biodegradable pots] need air to work and this major constraint has led to the proliferation of plastic trays and containers invading the workplace," says Plantopia founder Chris Haley. "The Skelly tray allows the pot to breathe, while it is fully compatible with filling machines and automatic magazine dispensation, offering improved handling and transportation."

The trays are fully reusable and recyclable, nest and de-nest fully loaded with pots, take 12 8.5cm pots and fit six trays to the Danish trolley shelf. Not only did the Skelly win Best New Equipment Award, it also drove interest in biodegradable pots at the show.

New pots by Desch Plantpak included the modern design MAYCA and IMCA decorative containers available in 23cm and 27cm sizes — the latter holding a five-litre container as a pot cover or for use as a standard 7.5-litre container with water reservoir. For labelling, Floramedia launched an online proofing tool so customers can review proofs in one organised secure place without lengthy email trials, lost paperwork or files to download. New from Joy of Plants was the Plant Finder 2 Touchscreen kiosk that lets customers find the plants that match their desires without disturbing busy garden centre staff.

Science featured strongly at this year’s show, with Bionema highlighting the benefits of its three-in-one pest control solution of nematodes, spreader and specialist training and advice service for growers and retail. Talk on the Elsoms Seed stand was of seed health, the company having invested in a computer-controlled phytosanitation system to ensure a specific treatment protocol can be applied to each seed species. Sinclair’s Zinc Complex biostimulant (pictured below), highly commended in the awards, was backed by trails to demonstrate how the auxin-promoting formulation improves yield and plant quality, encourages vigour and development, produces more attractive foliage colour, increases shelf life and reduces transplant shock.

Also highly commended was the Birchmeier AS 1200 air-assisted sprayer with battery driven ACC spray blower with pressure control to supply liquid quietly in an airstream to cover all leaves with even distribution. It is available in the UK from Agralan (below).

A new look at glasshouse production was presented by Erfgoed, with its cultivation floor. CEO and owner of Erfgoed Hugo Paans said: "Over the last years, we’ve been testing the correlation between the top layer and the growth pattern of the plants. This led us to the new generation top layer, which is exclusively manufactured for the ErfGoed Floor." The stronger, ultraviolet-resistant ground cloth promotes sun reflection and cools down the floor temperature, so enabling better climate control around the pot while featuring a higher degree of water permeability to give uniform watering. For fertigation, Ripple Aquaplast introduced the Tefen TF1 injector with MixRite Dosing Pump for mixing of fertilisers, pesticides and other water-soluble products.

A plethora of retail products was launched at the show, including new growing mediums for gardeners. Bathgate’s Champions blend peat-free, Soil-Association-approved organic compost, with slow-release fertiliser, Envil Foundation, REMIN Volcanic Rock Dust and Oceans Bounty Natural Seaweed Extract, was shown in colourful, eye-catching packaging, while Dalefoot launched free-draining bulb compost made from sustainably harvested wild bracken from the Lake District fells. New on Melcourt’s stand, Farmyard Manure provides a source of genuine, well-rotted manure, from the range that now has RHS endorsement and carries the Royal Warrant.

The Award for Best New Retail Product went to Tyne Moulds & Machinery for an economical, British-made green living wall system, or vertical garden wall planter (above), manufactured from recycled synthetic turf and with a single pipe providing an irrigation system throughout the whole installation. Fixing methods enable the planters to be attached to all walls, including those comprised of cladding material.

Upbeat about the future and declaring its Four Oaks debut a great success, Wrexham-based Treadstone Products typified the response of exhibitors to this year’s show. The company’s "The Good Life" range of core gardening products was well received by show visitors. The range, suited to amateur and expert gardeners, includes products as varied as cloches and frost protection, plant stakes and labels, seeders and sowers, moisture meters and thermometers, hardware items, trellis and screens — with eye-catching packaging, point of sale and merchandising.

"There was a great buzz around the show with plenty of interest in our products and bespoke merchandising options. Our ability to offer retailers of all sizes a personal service was a key talking point with potential customers, especially the smaller nurseries," said Treadstone head of brands Dean Winters. "I first visited the show as a garden centre trainee 30 years ago and it was great to be back to demonstrate Treadstone’s commitment to the retail nursery sector. We’re already looking forward to next year’s show."

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