The 19th biannual Under 40’s Fruit Growers Conference was held this year in the Huelva region of Spain, writes Sarah Calcutt, technical manager at Norman Collett Ltd. The ideal soft fruit production area blessed with light sandy soils and permitted acres of poly tunnels in every direction!
This year’s conference, ably led by Matthew Spanton with committee members, David Macaulay, Ben Wilkinson, James Smith and Neil Hoskings, was a good example of the purpose of this association – a balanced group of representatives from the growing and commercial sectors meeting to discuss common issues and to learn about the challenges faced by growers in other climates. The conference ran smoothly with a varied pro-gramme, excellent speakers and with the support of a large group of sponsors; particular thanks must go to the generous commitment in both time and money by Bayer, Hortifeeds, Wellpict and Omex providing excellent contacts in the area and eloquent speakers.The first day began with a visit to Bionest, a large organic business currently growing on farms located in Almonte region, close to Donana national park, with more than 500ha currently growing strawberries, raspberries and tree fruit destined, primarily, for the UK market. On the second day the delegates were hosted by Bayer, who took the party around some of the leading citrus farms in that region and an insightful tour of a leading packhouse. The third trip was to Hortifruit. Like Bionest, Hortifruits is one of the largest growers of blueberries in Europe with 180 ha in production, another 200ha being planted and all from a humble start of 4ha in 1994! They have also invested over £4,000,000 in new staff accommodation and Packhouse facilities.
Visits were focussed on larger, commercial enterprises who are now leading their sector through innovation and investment. Common to all companies visited was the level of investment in packing facilities and staff accommodation. Significant grants are available in Spain for the development of facilities and planning is not an issue in an area that is zoned for agriculture, with the economic contribution of these enterprises recognised by the region. All the organisations visited found no difficulty in obtaining permits to build new staff facilities. Traditionally, afternoon conference sessions are given over to technical presentations by key industry representatives. Talks were on soil conditioners, the breeding and licensing of new varieties, residue free production, advances in packing and labelling equipment. Never short of questions; all speakers were grilled on their subject with good debate from the floor on several issues.
It was a pleasure to participate in such a lively and stimulating conference and the delegates returned to the UK happy with many new contacts and a better insight into other sectors. The next conference will be in early February 2009, in Leese, Germany and will be looking into new, greener technologies and opportunities to add value to our products. As the new chairman, I am delighted that I will be supported by Karen Whiting, Paul Day, John Clarke, Dave Thompson, Ashley Wensak and Seb Dew. Norman Collett Ltd have kindly agreed to sup-port the association and the new email address for enquiries is U40@normancollett.com
Organic Albion Strawberries from Bionest