I felt a little old last Friday, but in a good way really. I have been involved with the Under Forties fruit growers group for a very long time; my first trip with them was to Portugal just after I came home to work for father, every two years heading somewhere new.

I’ve had a couple of stints on the committee too, helping with a rather infamous trip to Italy where I could be found racing around the Imola circuit in a Fiat Multipla for one! Always fun, always topical and always the best networking event in any young growers calendar, the Under Forties are on the cusp of heading abroad again, this time to Chile.

The Under Forties thrives not just by its membership but also through the phenomenal sponsorship support the wider industry gives them. The current team were quick to thank their sponsors as they are making this trip accessible to the widest possible cross section of our industry.

The brilliant current committee, led by Emily Cliff of Lower Hope Cherries near Ledbury have recently returned from a whistle stop tour of the principle growing areas of Santiago and Santa Cruz (being the world’s longest country, there is a fair length of production area to choose from!) and have a great programme lined up for the 48 lucky enough to be chosen to go; there is a selection process this time, they are determined that there be the greatest sector and geographical spread of growers.

Another first is the length of tour, for this will be an eight day trip, using direct flights to ensure the maximum time on the ground learning about top and stone fruit, avocados and table grapes (a few surprises were alluded to as well).

Friday in Herefordshire was all about stone and soft fruit, the technology employed and the pressures of the levels of investment required to deliver a good commercial crop.

We began the day with Jim, the lovely production manager at AMS Ltd Hereford, for a non soft fruit person it was really interesting to learn from a business that doesn’t belong to a plant breeding PO. Using a blend of open market varieties production levels were high and the selections were more than on top of retailer requirements. With the changes in abstraction, licensing water was the hot topic, our next speaker was Peter Gwynne who is the expert in what faces irrigators. Peter stated categorically that growers need to learn to farm without drawing water during the peak of the season. Tactical abstraction during floods, storms and rainwater capture are all good, but AMS are not recycling irrigation/fertigation run-off, as the UV filtration system can only deliver 97/98% removal of pathogens, which isn’t good enough to prevent the spread of issues around the farm.

Next we headed to Lower Hope; set in the most beautiful countryside they are a cherry producer that sets standards for the rest of the industry. Their Packhouse has seen some serious development in the last year including a very impressive Maff Roda dry grader, the selection made on the grounds that hydro-cooling systems just don’t suit many of the varieties grown in the UK. The one piece of equipment Lower Hope are desperate for is a NIR system for soft fruit. At present QC protocols are time consuming and onerous, cutting a large volume of fruit, a non-invasive system is at the top of the wish list clearly.

Growing cherries at Lower Hope does have its challenges, notwithstanding the £90,000/ha establishment cost, the heavy silty clay loam causes big water issues and newer orchards have been created employing a large raised bed system which creates a better environment for the roots. Significant investment is also being made into moving their irrigation into a single centrally automated system discarding the network of dosatrons and moving to a central injection rig.

The group is thriving and forward facing like the farms we visited, if you are under 40 or know of someone who would benefit from the network and knowledge provided by the Under 40’s an application should be sent pronto as the committee will be making their selection soon!