Yesterday saw the 26th British Independent Fruit Growers Association (BIFGA) Annual General Meeting kindly hosted by Alex and Margaret Charrington at Charrington Fruit Farms, in Matfield Kent.

Chaired by John Breach, 95 members of BIFGA were able to attend the event, which included a report of the previous year, a precision farming demonstration by Burden Bros Agri and a farm walk.

The Horticultural Development Company (HDC) were there to discuss talks about the imposing levy, as well as the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board’s proposal made to DEFRA to reduce the threshold from £60,000 to £30,000. DEFRA are going to consult the industry but nothing is expected to happen until the Scottish Vote for Independence. Sixty per cent of the current levy is spent on research into pests and diseases on tree roots.

New research into Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD) was discussed with the CRD working with the HDC to approve new products to protect against SWD pests.

With Canker still a big problem for growers in some areas, East Malling Research Centre have produced a report on their recent research findings, which is available to growers on request. New canker studies are also being carried out as well as research on Gala storage, optimum pruning time and planting material. Such research is expected to take 5-6 years.

The importance of standing up against overly strict farm assurance schemes was also on the agenda since the government made it clear there needs to be less red tape but evidence of this needs to be seen.
Burden Bros Agri, the main sponsor of BIFGA’s newsletter, gave an excellent demonstration on the benefits of adopting Precision Farming Technology on fruit farms.

Using their John Deere 5090GF they demonstrated its self drive capabilities and how introducing Precision Farming Technology can enhance farm performances and reduce costs. Accuracy of this technology can be as close as 2cm, depending on the system, creating perfect rows.

The use of variable rate application will soon be available for fruit farmers in which sprays are no longer applied at the same rate throughout the field but vary due to differences found within the soil. This will see a significant reduction to the amount of sprays being used and will benefit the environment.

Being the largest Precision Farming manufacturer in the world, John Deere have a number of specialities with start up costs from £800. Investing in this technology could see long-term benefits. One Maidstone apple grower covered set-up costs within just one season due to the large reduction in labour costs. By introducing a self-drive tractor, labour is typically reduced on a farm by three people.

The walk was a ‘trip through time’ beginning in a field with a mix of strong Cox and Russets in four row beds planted in 1989. The farm is currently in its 50th year of production since Alex’s late father Clive bought it in 1964. This was followed by Bramleys and the early variety of Beni Shoguns Fuji planted in 2008 in which Mr Charrington has seen good returns on this year compared to previous years. Zari is the latest variety to be adopted by the farm. It has been found to favour warmer weather with those being protected by windbreak to be much more productive.

Pollination on the farm is aided with hives in the orchards and Alex has recently become a member of LEAF who discovered a rare type of orchid.

The afternoon would not have been possible without the hard work of John Breach.

He is well known for his unfounded efforts campaigning for growers since January 1995 when he and four others went to the House of Commons asking for statutory controls in supermarkets. This soon gained the interest of others including MP Andrew George who chaired the action group as well as organisations such as the Women’s Institute and Friends of the Earth.

To become a member of the British Independent Fruit Growers’ Association or if you would like to sponsor the BIFGA newsletter please contact Mrs J Perry 01892 722080