The Marden Fruit Show Society (MFSS) held its Annual General Meeting on Wednesday 19 April, when Catherine Paice was welcomed as the new President. 

Catherine takes over from her good friend Teresa Wickham, who has stepped down after serving a three-year term. 

Catherine gave me a little quote for this column (we are as delighted as she is that she has joined the team): “I am delighted to accept the invitation to be the president of the Marden Fruit Show Society and I hope my experience and contacts will be invaluable, helping it to continue its work, especially in its 90th year.

“There is some fantastic innovation taking place in the sector as well as interesting technological developments and we look forward to showcasing more about these later in the year at the National Fruit Show.” 

The fruit show team has been working hard to ensure that our 90th year is a special one. With Sally Flannagan now at the helm, her experience at Hadlow and the East Malling Trust is paying dividends as our offering of technology, innovation and educational opportunities grows. Rachel Heather, event and team coordinator, is ensuring that the exhibition halls will be vibrant and full, and that our celebrations will befit such a milestone year.  

Back to the AGM; when we established the James Nichols lecture, we wanted to create a forum where James’ spirit would live on through intelligent, forthright speakers who would champion our sector and encourage everyone to affect change as he did. 

There was only one choice this year as I saw it, and we were not disappointed. In an inspiring and informative lecture, Emily Norton, head of Savills Rural Research and the immediate past chair of the Oxford Farming Conference, encouraged fruit growers to have their “own vision for the future”, saying that otherwise “supply chains and banks will dictate it to you”.

Commercial negotiation skills aren’t often finely honed in our sector and there have been many critical conversations around deal taking (rather than making) in our industry, Emily’s impassioned appeal was for growers to ensure they had control of prices, margins and their market place. 

She also encouraged growers to consider whether they were giving away valuable carbon credits in supply contracts and urged them to review them and to make sure they were sold to customers. 

She concluded by saying the sector should “challenge the landscape and create its own future”. The lecture can be heard again at (it starts at 13.00). While the audience on the day was primarily fruit growers and researchers, there was a strong message for all those in primary food production. 

Sadly Sally was unwell and unable to take the credit on the day for a great programme. Our other presentations included one which detailed the range of support services available to growers on a sustainability journey and a talk by the amazing Samantha Smith.

Samantha, the society’s education programme leader, delivered an impassioned resume of the work of her team. Sponsorship is desperately needed; the programme is currently taking bookings an academic year ahead, with the only limit on delivery being funding for the team’s time. 

It was great to hear from the hosting team from Growing Kent & Medway, who showcased the support they are giving to three top fruit growers. Clive Baxter led the way with a typically ‘Clive’ take on the marketing of his Asian pear juice (laxative or hangover preventative, take your pick; it tasted, delicious). 

The 90th National Fruit Show will take place on Wednesday 1 November and Thursday 2 November – please come and join us.

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