NFU President Minette Batters highlighted the “amazing opportunities” facing the fruit sector and stressed her passionate support for growers as she performed the official opening of this year’s National Fruit Show.

The event, which marked the 90th anniversary of the show, staged as always by the Marden Fruit Show Society, and the 14th under the energetic chairmanship of
South East Farmer contributor Sarah Calcutt, again combined a celebration of quality fruit with a chance to check out the latest machinery, support and services available.

The central fruit display was as impressive as ever and reflected the skills of a wide variety of exhibitors that Sarah pointed out ranged in age from 21 to 90.

Best in show went to A J Bray, with a Jazz that scored an impressive 98.5 points, while A C Goatham & Son was just half a point behind with the show’s Best Braeburn. The Best Bramley was exhibited by Bardsley Horticulture and scored 96.5 points, Mallions grew the Best Gala and the Best Cox went to Claygate Farm.

The Best Pear was a Concorde grown by J L Baxter which scored 96 points in what was acknowledged to have been a difficult year that wasn’t helped by challenging weather during harvest.

This year’s show continued the focus developed over recent years on cider, with 37 varieties of perry and cider featured. The three Engage Agro Trophies went to Dowdings Sweet Still (Best Traditional) Dudda’s Apricot (Best Mixed Blend) and Double Vision Fine Kent Perry (Best Pear/Perry). 

The South East Farmer Trophy for the Best Sparkling Cider want to Turners for its Fine Cider, while the Best Machinery Trade Stand prize, also awarded by the magazine, went to N P Seymour, one of the show’s four sponsors alongside Worldwide Fruit, Hutchinsons and BASF.

Introducing Ms Batters in what was her last year as chairman after 14 years at the helm of the society, Sarah Calcutt paid tribute to the “utterly fantastic” fruit on display “despite the weather and retail challenges”.

In response, the NFU President said it was “an enormous privilege” to be asked to open the 90th National Fruit Show and support an industry she felt so passionate about. While she admitted she had not quite got the country’s political leaders completely on her wavelength with regards to the fruit sector, she stressed the “amazing opportunity” for the UK’s top fruit and the importance of driving the industry forward. Growers were “an amazing group of people,” she added.

Ms Batters was then taken aback as she found herself the recipient of the Jon Jones Award.

Sarah Calcutt pointed out that the award was presented in honour of a man who was “erudite, charming, entertaining and hard working and said that with the winner having “big boots to fill”, the award had to go to “someone really special”.

She went on: “Our recipient is a farmer who most definitely ventures beyond their farm gate. They work exceptionally hard for the wider farming industry effecting real change and raising great awareness of the challenges that we face”.

Having pointed out earlier that it was basically the “good egg” award, Sarah said: “Minette Batters, you are the recipient of the 2023 Jon Jones award. You are our good egg, thank you for everything you have achieved for British farming.”

Minette also gave the keynote speech at the well-attended conference that was another of the highlights of the show, calling for a five-year rolling programme of seasonal overseas workers and for visas to be issued for nine months rather than six. She also stressed the need for the Government to set a self-sufficiency target for the country and highlighted the need for growers to be paid a fair price for their produce (See story on page 24).

Other speakers at the conference included Nigel Barden and Chris Newenham from the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers, John Gray on fresh produce supply chain excellence and Grocery Code Adjudicator Mark White, who updated the audience on current issues in the sector.

For others the show was a welcome chance to catch up with friends, suppliers and customers, check out the fruit and visit the vast range of manufacturers, consultants and suppliers of everything from packaging to picking platforms.

The displays were as impressive as ever, with the likes of N P Seymour, Tuckwells, Agrii, Munckhof, Orchard Cooling, Hutchinsons NIAB, GJ Elgar Construction, Kent County Agricultural Society, Kreston Reeves and Horsepower UK amongst around 90 exhibitors.

One of the most impressive, as always, but sadly tucked into a corner of the John Hendry Pavilion, was Kirkland UK, which was showcasing, amongst other things, a Compact CM01 fully electric apple harvester, the Mach 4 R Quadtrack from Anonio Carraro and an H.S.S. orchard tower sprayer.

Read our full National Fruit Show review

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