There is a certain type of voyeurism going on at an orchard walk; taking peering over the hedge to the next level you are given permission to look in the trees, ask difficult questions and check out what is actually on the tree and see if it is better than yours. From the high scores in the Goudhurst and Paddock Wood competition this year it would seem that there are a good number of growers who are excelling in the production of excellent quality fruit in a difficult year. There were also excellent scores for orchard health, Integrated Pest Management strategies and young orchards along with some very high marks for commercial orchards. Winners were well spread across a number of marketing desks who serve the West Kent region too, with winners sending their fruit through Richard Hochfeld, Avalon Produce Ltd and AC Goatham and Son. Despite the utterly dreadful weather on the day, attendance numbers were high with a broad cross section of the industry and local growers turning out.

The overall winners were Adrian Scripps Ltd with Honoton farm proudly displaying the fantastic attention to detail that the Scripps team are renowned for. Honoton grows four varieties of dessert apples – Gala (5 clones, Mondial, Galaxy, Schniga, Gala one & Royal Beut), Hillwell Braeburn, Red Jonaprince and Opal, the farm also now has a very smart 1.91ha vineyard planted with Chardonnay & Pinot Noir which are destined for Chapel Down. Walking around the site with Adrian Scripps, it was apparent that their sites have been hit by the adverse weather in a similar fashion to many other farms, it’s their management skill and the health of their trees that has helped mitigate the impact of cold and frost.

The runners up were Kent House Nursery and overall third went to Ian Overy Farms, Giles Cannon of Roughways, James Smith of Loddington farm, Hadlow Place farm and GH Chambers all collecting multiple awards. Speaking with a couple of the judges they commented that the impact of the weather was widespread but that some growers had been able to overcome the damage better than others, frost damage being particularly severe in some areas.

With harvest upon us the full impact of the currency shift is starting to hit, with reports from several areas that insufficient staff are available. Agencies are reporting that worrying numbers of soft fruit workers are heading home as the exchange rate reaches parity and there has been shortage for the whole of the season. If you are experiencing any staff shortages please could you let Amy Gray at the NFU know as she is collating staff shortage issues.

And finally, next month will see the reviews for the National Fruit show, I just wanted to get there first with a gentle reminder about the Bonanza prize. As you begin harvest please be mindful that the main prize this year is a trip to South Africa sponsored by Greenyard, as you work your way through the varieties, just think about what volumes of show quality fruit you might want to tuck away to be eligible. To be able to enter the Bonanza prize there need to be three qualifying entries (scoring more than 85 points in classes 1-19), with the vast majority of all entrants coming in well above this low bar to entry, it would seem foolish to not be displaying the best of your crop come 25 October, doesn’t it?