There was no shortage of advice, contacts, inspiration and ideas at this year’s Fruit Focus event held at NIAB East Malling.
With a wide range of exhibitors, a packed programme of quality presentations and a selection of tours, the oft-quoted ‘something for everyone’ label would not have been out of place.
The NFU hosted two seminars during the day, the first focusing on enabling growth for UK horticulture against a backdrop of cost challenges and labour shortages, and the second discussing the challenges around delivering a fair supply chain for growers.
Either side of the central forums there was a continual stream of shorter forums covering everything from the future of robot fruit harvesting and greenhouse energy efficiency to electrical weed control and better irrigation.
Given the venue for the event, there was a focus on research tours organised by NIAB, with visitors able to get a closer look at East Malling’s WET (water efficient technology) Centre, plum demonstration centre, research winery and produce quality centre or join a pathology research or fruit research and innovation tour.
Working demonstrations and an afternoon reception featuring local cheese and English wine added to the appeal of the day and gave visitors a chance to network and read the literature collected from the multitude of exhibitors taking part.
Visitors included Aurel Voiculescu, who works in IT in this country but is a grower in his native India. He was at the event to look at the UK’s more advanced growing and harvesting technology with a view to supporting his growing back home.
“The technology is more advanced here, particularly some of the AI and drone applications,” he commented. “I have also been looking at electronic weed control and the apps that calculate nutritional requirements. It’s a very interesting show.”
Chatting to Aurel was University of Bristol student Swapnil Mane, who has designed a robotic strawberry harvesting system for his Masters dissertation and was at the show to compare notes with the other technology on display.
Rootwave’s eWeeder turned quite a few heads during the afternoon, keeping head of global sales Stephen Jelley busy talking to potential customers.
On what was Rootwave’s first appearance at the show, where Stephen and his team were promoting the company’s trailed electric weeding solution for orchards, vineyards and fruit – available from next year – he said the stand had been “consistently busy”.
Rootwave has already enjoyed considerable success with its handheld spot control lance, which is even able to tackle the notorious Japanese Knotweed, although it can be a lengthy process.
There was a good turnout of packaging machinery on display, with G Mondini (UK) highlighting its TRAVE Fresh tray sealer. Sales manager Lee Driscoll said Fruit Focus had given him a chance to catch up with existing customers and highlight the company’s range of machinery to potential new ones.
Also enjoying the networking opportunity was Robert Mitchell, managing director of Netafim, irrigation equipment specialists and partners with NIAB in its WET Centre. “Netafim is about growing more with less,” he explained. “We’ve been coming to Fruit Focus for many years, and it gives us a great chance to network and unveil upgrades and new products to potential customers.”