The East Kent walk clearly demonstrated that Chandler and Dunn have a wonderful spot to farm in and their orchards are clearly benefitting from very good management. The walk was so well attended with over 80 people including a strong contingent of the new Under 40’s Fruit Growers Association committee there, in fact dare I say it but a lower average age than usual. The U40’s, under the leadership of Charlie Dunn, are well on their way planning the next conference in 2016, they have a fantastic plan of where they will take their group and some very strong partners on board already, I’ve booked already!

Next came August Pitts near Horsmonden, this was the Brenchley and East Sussex Technical Group and local NFU annual walk, the weather was pretty awful so the decision was taken to view the new packhouse facility. The packhouse is a great example of the kind of collaborative spirit that Chris has entered into with the new Avalon Produce Ltd group. An innovative design was conceived for the packhouse aimed at improving working conditions for packers and to be highly energy efficient. Chris worked with John Worth of Tesco to ensure understanding of variance from standard designs to ensure compliance at audit, the ICA group delivered the site, bringing in several partners to provide solutions around natural light, responsive, efficient lighting systems and ventilation. The result is a packhouse unlike the vast majority worldwide, a clean, open naturally lit space, ventilated with fresh air and a more pleasant working space, also with reduced running costs.

The third walk, delivered by the BIFGA group, was at Northiam farm, also in Horsmonden hosted by George and Mike Chambers. It was a glorious evening, brilliant sunshine after a warm day meant that this too had very good attendance. After the walk around the beautiful farm, event sponsors the ICA Group gave two short presentations – Simon Fitch began by reminding everyone of the importance of store safety, the development of the correct safety protocols and the management of the safety of your staff. He went on to discuss the availability of grant assistance for on farm developments and the support the business gives in rigours of planning applications.

All three walks were so well attended, there was such enthusiasm from all concerned and no shortage of questions for the hosts. There were quiet conversations about the pressures of the season and the challenges facing growers but in the main the walks were positive, growers looking forward and finding solutions.

So this brings me to one of those challenges… in the UK, we have had EAP and the Bramley campaign, both have, over time, delivered an amazing amount for British growers and the profile of our industry. There is a brand for Bramley, the campaign has delivered, by dogged hard work, recognition for the variety; no more are there jars of apple sauce, it’s Bramley apple sauce, Bramley apple pies and Bramley apple crumble. The EAP campaign has brought together industry leaders and retailers, engaged with retailers, the national press, consumers with one voice, one cohesive message. At a time when collaborative working is more important than ever to gain us the crucial 50% market share, to support growers feeling the pinch of retail price wars, to share knowledge and have a thriving home grown fruit marketplace we appear to be throwing it away. There are lots of examples in other sectors where the removal of the levy paid body has been wholly detrimental to the sector – the Hops marketing board and the Milk marketing board to name just two. Look how those sectors have suffered through lack of communication and collaboration and have had to work so hard to bring cohesion and critical mass to their arguments once more. Do we really want an English industry where we have no cohesive voice, no strong message delivered direct to consumers? Should we not all work for the benefit of our fruit, for the home grown food sector, working as a majority for the benefit of the whole?