Billing it as "the most important trade event in international horticulture", organisers of Amsterdam's Horti Fair are hoping that a unifying theme of sustainable growing will maintain interest in the show, which has reduced its display area by more than 20 per cent as exhibitors cut back on floorspace due to the global downturn.
"Times are tough for all shows right now," explains Horti Fair UK representative Nigel Hurcomb, "but this year's Horti Fair will have new technical showcase areas."
This year's event, which kicks off on 13 October, will employ a simpler layout, divided squarely between Horti Grow & Trade and Horti Tech. It will feature prominently all companies launching environmentally themed products and services, linked by a themed route and accompanying mini-catalogue.
Among these will be Knook Energy Systems, which will launch its "Waste to CO2" system, which has been shortlisted for the Innovation Award. The system converts treatment waste or biomass to electricity, CO2 and heat for glasshouses, without giving off any bad smells. As well as offering sustainability, the system insulates growers against future fuel-price rises, the Dutch company says.
Breaking the mould
On the products side, Desch Plantpak will launch its D-Grade Bio range of biodegradable thermoform flowerpots, trays and packs made entirely from plant material. Jiffy's Speedypot, meanwhile, is not only biodegradable but robust enough to be handled mechanically and even printed on. And Synprodo will launch BioFoam, which looks like the conventional expanded polystyrene used in snappable plant trays but will biodegrade within three months.
Delamore managing director Wayne Eady has been visiting the show for many years. "For us, it's as much about meeting clients and other people from the industry as about seeing what's on show," he says. "It's less about plants now, but is still worth going to for the new technology and, at its current size, it's do-able in a day."
The Defra-funded Commercial Horticultural Association (CHA) will again host a British pavilion, giving specialist UK firms the opportunity to meet a diverse international audience.
According to CHA events and marketing manager Stuart Booker: "Horti Fair is still a key international event and is easier for international visitors than the IPM show in Essen (Germany).
"The UK pavilion will be a similar size to last year and have a similar number of UK companies — 18 to 20 — which are a mixture of long-term exhibitors and first-timers. Last year, we had visitors from nearly 100 countries, though for many exhibitors it's also a chance to meet British customers — we promote the UK pavilion for that purpose as well.
"All our exhibitors last year reported they were 'reasonably or very satisfied' and this year the exchange rate is still working in our favour."
Glasgow-based horticultural polymer manufacturer Smart-Tech will be among the first-time exhibitors within the UK pavilion. The firm's horticulture consultant Charles Martin says: "We are keen to explore the export potential of our products, but also to use it as an opportunity to network with the rest of the UK industry as we're a relatively new company."
Smart-Tech's range of HappiRoot slow-release reservoirs for houseplants has already featured on shopping channel QVC. "People are put off buying plants because they worry they won't look after them properly, but this lets them go on holiday and not worry about watering," says Martin. "We could produce a lot more."
David Austin Roses, on the other hand, is a long-standing exhibitor independent of the CHA. Head of cut flowers Ian Pierce says: "We did have concerns about what the changes would mean in terms of footfall at our stand, but Horti Fair is still an important show for us and the biggest of the year for the cut-flowers side of the business.
"We can meet a lot of key customers in a short time and always make a few new contacts from across the world."
The show now coincides with the nearby Aalsmeer Trade Fair, a big date in the cut-flower calendar. "It may be dragging visitors away from Horti Fair," Pierce suggests — although both events may also gain from crossover attendance.
British-based engineering firm Rolls Royce will be hoping to benefit from the current interest in maximising energy efficiency within the glasshouse, with its range of combined heat and power units. Although a venerable name in British engineering, Rolls Royce manufactures the units in Bergen, Norway.
According to head of marketing Tone Lundekvam: "There are already quite a lot in use in Dutch glasshouses. They are also in use in the UK in places like hospitals, but not so far in horticulture.
"They run on natural gas and provide heating and CO2 for the glasshouse, while the surplus energy can be sold to the National Grid."
Berkshire-based manufacturer Hamilton Design will be showing its range of seeding machines and transplanters, alongside a new grafting machine from the company's Italian partner TEA.
According to director Richard Hamilton: "Our main reason for exhibiting is to look for distributors in new areas. We are already active in 25 countries but there are always emerging markets, such as the Middle East, and Horti Fair is a good place to tap into them."
Hamilton says exhibitors' cautious approach to the show this year need not be taken as a sign of doom and gloom in the industry more generally.
"A lot of companies will have decided back in January that they would scale back their presence - not necessarily pull out altogether, but take out a smaller area," he says.
"But most of our British and American customers have had a pretty good season and we are hoping they will be there to spend a bit."
He adds: "We also exhibit at the British shows — Four Oaks, Southern Growers — but will hope to meet some of the larger, more progressive growers in Amsterdam."
Hamilton Design will also begin exhibiting at the IPM show next year, by which time it will perhaps become more apparent what is "top dog" among Europe's horticulture shows.
"We like Horti Fair because October is a good time for us; the weather's better than in November, when it used to be held," says Hamilton. "It's also in a good location and there's more hotel space, which makes it easier as an exhibitor. Both are expensive to show at, but it's puzzling why IPM seems to be gaining at Horti Fair's expense."
Date Tuesday 13 October to Friday 16 October, 10am-7pm
Admission Free on registration
Location Amsterdam RAI, which is a 15-minute train journey from Schiphol Airport or a 12-minute express tram journey from Amsterdam Central Station. By car, it is off junction S109 of Amsterdam's A10 orbital motorway.
This year, competition for the Innovation Award is particularly fierce because, in line with the simplified format of the exhibition, there are only two categories: Horti Grow & Trade and Horti Tech. Each winning entrant receives a prize of EUR5,000 (£4,600).
According to the chairman of the jury, FloraHolland Naaldwijk auction centre manager Gijs Kok: "You only see fundamental breakthroughs once every 10 years. But innovations are close together — that's why it's also essential to see how they function. And you can only do that at a trade show like Horti Fair, where all these developments are brought together."
From nearly 200 entrants, a shortlist of 18 will go into the final round of judging, with the winners announced on the opening morning of the show.
Only one British entrant has made the final cut: Russell IPM, an integrated pest management developer based in Flintshire, north Wales, specialising in sex pheromones for monitoring and trapping pests.
Senior scientific officer Dr Nayem Hassan said Russell IPM's Qlure-TUA, a pheromone lure for tomato leaf miner (Tuta absoluta), has come at a key time for tomato growers.
"The T. absoluta moth has spread rapidly since arriving in Spain in 2006 from its home in South America," says Dr Hassan.
"It's already a big problem in Continental Europe and North Africa, and now this year in south-east England too. It's resistant to pesticides, so this is the only way to treat the problem."