The trip is the most ambitious ever planned by the group, and as well as being a suitable way of marking its 50th anniversary year it will ensure the group can learn as much as possible about the way things are done in another part of the world.
“Taking time out to learn more about the industry is as useful for fruit growers as it is for members of any other profession, but the seasonal nature of the job has always posed a bit of a problem,” explained Under 40s chairman Charlie Dunn.
“Because growers are busy for most of the year we have always had our annual conference in February, when things are a bit quieter and growers have more spare time to invest in learning new skills and techniques.
“That’s fine, and we have had some great trips over the years, but if you are visiting growers in this part of the world, there is just one problem; all the trees are dormant and all the information is theoretical – you can’t see much actually happening in the orchards.”
It was to tackle that particular problem that Charlie and the current Under 40s committee decided to look further afield when planning the group’s 2017 conference – with a remarkable outcome.
Members who join the Under 40s trip in 14 months time will not be shivering their way around a European orchard but will instead be learning about top fruit and vine cultivation in the somewhat sunnier surrounding of the Southern Cape.
The trip to South Africa was announced at the group’s interim visit to the Chapel Down Vineyard, a few miles outside Tenterden in Kent, on a damp and chilly day that provided a suitable contrast to the images the announcement conjured up.
It was a well-attended event and the exciting news was well received by members who will have the opportunity to benefit from a once-in-a-lifetime experience learning about fruit growing on the other side of the world.
The trip is subsidised by generous sponsorship from a range of industry leaders including Agrovista, Certis, BASF, Landseer, Koppert Hutchinsons and Agrii, and while Charlie and his team are still looking for more contributions he stressed that money was not the only kind of sponsorship the group enjoyed.
“Yes we need financial help because that’s the only way that young growers can benefit from the knowledge they can pick up on this kind of trip, but we are also grateful to those companies and individuals who have contacts at our conference destinations,” he explained.
“The Under 40s conference is about making links with farms, growers, people and businesses in the destination country and so we are grateful for anyone who can provide an introduction to someone who can help.
“That kind of support is just as valuable and is important because it helps us to ensure we deliver a conference that delivers as much added value as possible in the three or four days we are away.”
The most recent of the group’s biannual conferences was held in Benelux earlier this year and saw members learning from growers and businesses in The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.
They visited stone fruit growers and the Fleuren tree nursery, met the Belgian Under 35s groups, studied pack house production and visited a research centre in Belgium to study ten years of farm trials comparing different systems of pear production.
This year’s conference included a visit to BRB machinery and another to the Duvel Brewery, highlighting the mixture of information gathering and social interaction that is the mark of the Under 40s.
“Our aim has always been to give younger growers the chance to meet other people, share ideas, make new friendships and contacts and learn from each other – as well as having fun and enjoying new experiences,” said Charlie. “We do that at our interim meetings – like the launch event at Chapel Down – and particularly at the two-yearly conferences.”
At the unveiling of the South African trip in 2017, Charlie pointed out that the Under 40s was “a social network of fruit growers and industry representatives” aimed at “sharing knowledge and making new connections and friendships”.
He pointed out that the conferences had allowed members to experience fruit growing systems across the UK and, in recent years, Europe, adding: “And maybe beyond…”
After unveiling the 2017 destination, Charlie said he hoped that this would be more than a 50th anniversary one off but would instead mark a step change in the way the organisation operated – and he said the signs were already there.
“At the launch of the 2017 trip I noticed that the committee members who are likely to be organising the 2019 conference were already starting to talk about how they could make their event just as exciting and so I am hopeful that we have set the Under 40s on an exciting path to an impressive future,” he said.
The current committee – vice-chairman Paul Hamlyn, treasurer Chris Levett, sponsorship secretary Verity Holdstock, secretary Estera Amesz and logistics manager Jane Antrobus all work alongside Charlie – will now organise a fact-finding ‘recce’ to South Africa in 2016 in order to plan the conference proper and make sure that the delegates get as much value as possible out of the three or four day event.
“We will be visiting somewhere around harvest time and we are thinking of looking not just at top fruit but also at a vineyard and at strawberry production in that part of the world,” said Charlie.
The interim meeting at which the South Africa destination was unveiled was a chance for the Under 40s to tour a vineyard closer to home, with members taken on a tour of Chapel Down before sampling some of its wares.
Before the tour – and after an enjoyable lunch – the group was given a presentation by event sponsor Peter White, from Soil Moisture Sense, a company which specialises in monitoring all aspects of moisture, weather and store monitoring.
“About 80% of what we supply is for monitoring soil or substrate but we also give advice on irrigation and provide other related equipment designed to help growers produce a better crop more efficiently,” he said.