The Annual Fruit Focus Event held at NIAB every summer, brings together members of the soft fruit, stone fruit and viticulture. Over the last 20 years the core of the support industry, has changed from soft and stone fruit to viticulture.
In these challenging times growers in general: wether it be apples, pears, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, salads etc. are all struggling with insufficient price from Supermarkets: exacerbated by the global energy crisis.
Viticulture has been in the ascendancy for a number of years and is now the beacon of hope for many growers diversifying their investment in to grape growing.
While The English Apple Man has been supporting wine producers for "many a year" - consuming more than is advised by the medical profession, my interesting in growing has been primarily apples and pears, but with increasing involvement in soft and stone fruit.
Having risen much earlier than usual (well i am an old retired gentleman) I was on the road to NIAB EMR by 7,30am and parking at Fruit Focus by 8.50am. My desire to arrive early was due to the NFRU Forum where a full day's programme got underway at 9am sharp!
NFU Fruit Focus Forum programme
09:00 09:20 Learnings from the M&S and Solina Carbon Trust Project
09:20 09:40 The future of robot fruit harvesting
09:40 10:00 Advancements in greenhouse energy efficiency
10:00 11:00 Enabling growth for UK horticulture*
11:00 11:45 Delivering fair supply chains for growers*
11:45 12:00 Worshipful Company of Fruiterer Prizes
12:00 13:00 NIAB Research Update*<
13:00 13:20 The benefits of a water conditioner
13:20 13:40 Responsibly sourcing growing materials
13:40 14:00 a solution for a broad range of pests
14:00 14:20 electrical weed control in orchards, vineyards and bush fruit
14:20 14:40 Orius Cold plus - recent advances in biocontrol of WFT
14:40 15:00 Advances in film covering materials for British fruit production
15:00 15:20 2023 season feedback on novel approaches to IPM in soft fruit
15:20 15:40 How to improve your irrigation system and save water
15:40 16:00 Celine - a lab in the glasshouse
16:00 16:20 Calcium Mobility Technology and the role of calcium in fruit production
My target presentation was by Ed Herbert COO of Dogtooth Technology. I had been interested in the Robot Strawberry harvester since first becoming aware in 2021.
Ed Herbert updated visitors on the development of the strawberry harvester. The picking performance (speed v human picker has improved from an initial 10% through to 60% and will soon be 80%. This denoted the cost of harvesting bearing in mind the individual berry has a 'built in QC check from the moment it is picked by imaging the whole of the berry which can identify 18 different defects in one operation, before placing the strawberry in the appropriate punnet.
Dogtooth has patented the idea of using an on-robot inspection system to grade picked fruit.
This approach eliminates the significant cost of the retrospective inspection in the packhouse or elsewhere and avoids repeated handling of picked fruit.
"We have been working closely with UK growers, developing commercial robotic harvesting systems since 2016.
The 2023 version of the Dogtooth robot can pick up to 200kg a day, at a cost of 50p a kilo.
In 2023 70 robots are picking commercially 5 hectares of strawberries.
The robot is compatible with all popular table top growing systems.
Below: left. Dogtooth Technologies stand and right. the Dogtooth Robot Harvester
Click on Dogtooth Technologies to learn more.
From Dogtooth, I strolled the short distance to the stand hosting Agrovista where my friend Alex Radu organised a welcome cup of coffee. An opportunity to catch up on 'all things orchard' - (during the day I caught up with several of my agronomist friends) the consensus for this years apple and pear crops is: Gala our number one by volume varies from a low of 60% to 85% - 90% crops.
Cox is generally light! Braeburn variable while Conference pears which had an initial very good set, have run but with pear size looking good, prospects are promising. In Europe the pear crop is forecast to be down from 2022 harvest .
My next visit was to the Pelemix stand where I discussed the virtues of peat substitute Coir with Tomar Koran their VP Sales and Marketing representative.
Tomar told me a bit about the PELEMIX company which is he said, a leader in the coir - coco peat substrate market for Hydroponics growers and nurseries. Our coir is used worldwide as a growing media for various hydroponics crops in nurseries, greenhouses, plant propagation, and bedding plants
On the next stand I met John Phoenix of BERRY who claim "Our high-clarity tri-layer film combines maximum protection with ease of installation to ensure long-term product quality, whatever the season.
As the time approached 12 noon I made my way back to the NFU Forum for presentations from NIAB scientists.
Below: left. Adam Whitehouse and right. Professor Xiangming Xu
Adam Whitehouse updated visitors on the research into screening for resistance Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD) in strawberry and raspberry accessions.
Primarily investigating the possibility through breeding of new Strawberry varieties by searching for 'known variation in some Fragaria species. The aim to identify UK relevant strawberry and raspberry germplasm with natural resistance to SWD for future variety development.
Professor Xiangming Xu reported on his work: predicting and managing strawberry fruit rot. Developing models for predicting strawberry fruit rots caused by Mucor and Rhizopus - incorporating inoculum and weather conditions.
Understanding the fate of biocontrol organisms on plant tissue surface under natural conditions - on Leaves, Roots and Flowers.
Below: left. Dr Sarah Arnold and right. Dr Matevz Papp-Rupar Plant Pathologist, Project Leader
Dr Sarah Arnold AgroBioConnect. Connections in the landscape complexity in agroecosystem sustainability.
What we know - Diverse landscape - complex habitat mosaic - reservoirs of beneficials and other benefits.
Pollinators - Natural enemies of crop pests - Soil health. TRADE OFF; also more pests as well? Mixed evidence!
Matt updated on European Apple Canker Neonectria ditissima research; (following a long line of scientist globally who have been searching for the holy grail for decades) - reminding us of the plethora of opportunities for canker infection.
Infecting wounds (petal scars, leaf scars, pruning/picking) all year round!
Conidia spores on young cankers - rain splashed dispersed. Ascospores produced on old cankers.
Killing trees - up to 30% of newly planted orchards. DIFFICULT to control - lack of effective chemical products.
Below: left. Dr Francis Wamonje and Forest Bug right. Fruit Focus Schedule Information Board
Dr Francis Wamonje reported on his work developing pheromones for Innovative Management of Forest Bug, an emerging pest of orchards, a Farming Innovative Programme - Feasibility Project. The forest bug can damage apples and pears resulting in up to 40% fruit losses.
The project aims to identify and synthesise species-specific pheromones for forest bug that will provide innovative approaches for monitoring and control.
Below: left Thorvald UV-C promotional information at Fruit Focus and right the Thorvald machine
Light treatment controls powdery mildew without chemical inputs by exposing strawberry plants to shortwave light on a weekly basis. Research and real-life usage show this to be highly effective at controlling powdery mildew.
Below: a view of the inside of the Thorvald UV-C machine
Click on Video of Thorvald Platform to view use of high-intensity UV-C light in action.
That is all for this week - Next week - The English Apple Man visits Fruit Focus 2023 - Part 2
The English Apple Man