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The English Apple Man


19th Jul 2019 - Fruit Focus

This Wednesday The English Apple Man visited Fruit Focus at NIAB/EMR


Attracting an increasing number of visitors year on year, Fruit Focus brings together more than 2000 growers and industry professionals. Over 130 leading suppliers exhibit at Fruit Focus. It showcases all aspects of agronomy, machinery and equipment, business information, pre- and post-harvest technology, and marketing.


Fruit Focus provides a unique opportunity to update on the latest technologies and industry developments, exchange views and network with fellow producers. As well as soft and orchard fruit, vines also feature at Fruit Focus.

Fruit Focus the annual event held at East Malling Research Station (Now NIAB/EMR).


For The English Apple Man this one day event passes very quickly. Arriving 'just in time' for Berry Gardens press conference held in their marque where Berry Garden members enjoy the hospitality offered by their marketing operation. It is an opportunity for members of the fruit trade press to spend an hour being updated on the sales to date of Strawberry, Raspberry, Blackberry, Cherry and Blueberries this season.


On display for our tasting - Strawberries, Raspberries, Blackberries, Blueberries, Cherries and innovative packaging



Berry Gardens Chairman Alistair Brooks and CEO Jacqui Green led the press release discussion. Alistair said the 2019 British soft fruit season got off to a great start with first picks in Mid February from glasshouse and heated production.


The weather has been more unpredictable with unseasonably warm weather at Easter supporting

sales. However the cold weather in May slowed things down; hence British Summer Fruit figures for strawberry sales to the 30th June are the same as 2018.


Raspberries, Blackberries and Blueberries continue to increase sales 'year on year' - Blackberry production (+ 21%) 'year on year' continues to be dominated by Driscolls Victoria (exclusive to Berry Gardens) - Blueberry production continues to grow and Berry Gardens anticipate their grower co-operative will grow from 179 hectares in 2018 to 300 hectares by 2022!


CEO Jacqui Green - "this season we have introduced a 'child focused' blueberry pack to one of our key retail customers. Designed to be fun for children while meeting parents' convenience needs. Each pot delvers more than a child's 'portion of fruit a day' - Jacqui said the Cherry harvest is it's first few weeks and we are anticipating a consistent season. As a group we are looking at exporting British cherries to Europe! - Over the last few weeks, helped by the warmer temperatures, Berry gardens has sold 2,330 tonnes of berries and cherries in the third week of June - "our biggest ever week" - over the Wimbledon fortnight sales were up 10% 'year on year'


The press conference covered many aspects of Berry Gardens drive to meet consumer desires; championing new varieties like: Driscolls Victoria Blackberry - Maravilla Raspberries Liberty Blueberries and ongoing improved varieties of Strawberries - Zara and Katrina among them. Packaging is continuously becoming more sustainable with all clear punnets made from recycled material and introduction of card and fibre containers which are being trialled by retailers.



After an hour with Berry Gardens there is just enough time to catch up with a few friends on their trade stands and a 'comfort break' before settling down for two hours for the first 2 of a number of seminars organised by the NFU.


Session 1. "Setting the Ambition for a Productive and Profitable Horticulture Industry"


Below: Left to Right: Dr. Debbie Wilson - Ali Capper - Robert Goodwill MP - Lee Abbey



As we look beyond Brexit to the future of the industry, it is critically important to identify and capitalise on the opportunities for delivering growth for UK horticulture. From providing healthy food to a healthy environment, we need a productive and profitable sector ready to meet the demands of British consumers for home-grown, delicious fruit, grown to some of the highest standards in the world. This panel will explore what we can achieve, and how we can achieve it to ensure the future success of this sector.


Chaired by: Lee Abbeywho has been a policy adviser at the NFU for over 13 years, and for the last seven years within the Horticulture and Potatoes team. Lee was appointed Chief Adviser for Horticulture & Potatoes in October 2018, working alongside the national board to develop and deliver its strategic aims, which include access to labour, future agricultural policy and productivity schemes.


Robert Goodwill is the Conservative MP for Scarborough and Whitby. He was appointed the Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 5 March 2019, where his responsibilities include food, farming, science and innovation.


Mr Goodwill since 1979 has farmed the 250acre family farm near Malton in North Yorkshire. The predominantly arable farm has been in the family since the 1850s.


Robert Goodwill identified opportunity and transition; 'phasing in a new scheme' delivering good quality food; he said The Agriculture Bill will bring a clear way forward for growers and for the environment. He drew attention to the 'Industrial Strategy Challenge' and on immigration he highlighted the new 'Seasonal Labour Pilot' scheme as an indication of Government's recognition of recruiting labour beyond from beyond the EU.


Understandably there were comments from the audience that the allowance of 2,500 was a 'spit in the ocean' (EAM description for nowhere near enough) when we need 70,000 +


Ali Capper - A top fruit (including cider apples) and hops grower in Worcestershire, Ali Capper has been chairman of the NFU Horticulture & Potatoes board since 2016. Ali is also Executive Chair of English Apples & Pears and a Director of the British Hop Association and Hop Industry Committee.




Ali Capper highlighted the number of people in government departments it is necessary to 'lobby' - "we cannot go to one civil servant and lobby, we must 'cover all bases' (EAM terminology) - if we want to talk about immigration, we must talk to the Home Office, it's only when you get to talk to the Treasury that you understand what they identify as 'value to the Government' - the complexity of lobbying 'who over what' becomes clearer.


Who will we be influencing?




UKRI (UK Research & Innovation including INNOVATE)




Ali commented on the recent SmartHort conference which she said identified many aspects of technology and innovation we can use to take our industry forward.



Ali: "Why in the strategy are we talking about exporting data driven solutions? Why aren't we talking about food policy and one (our) of the best food safety systems in the World, why aren't we talking about a system that deliver healthy food at affordable prices to our consumers? Ali said it is good news however to have an Industrial Strategy!



We have a growing population that want's to by home grown food, and an increasing interest for 'flexitarian' products.


What we need is a to demonstrate what the success of this sector has been over the last 10-20 years and where we see it going! - the increased productivity is superbly demonstrated by a 'case study' - Every time we make a technological gain, we deliver a substantial increase in productivity.


Ali demonstrated how the soft fruit industry has dramatically increased production with innovation and technology is illustrated in the data below.


Productive case studies for Strawberries in different growing systems


Growing system x tonnes per hectare


In soil outdoors 5-10 tonnes. In polytunnels & irrigated. 15-20 tonnes.


In tunnels with tabletops and modern varieties 33-55 tonnes. Using suspended oscillation system 100-120 tonnes.


"This is a stunning example, but it is not restricted to Strawberry production. Raspberries. Blackberries, Blueberries, Plums, Cherries and Top Fruit (Apples and Pears) are also making dramatic increases in production. We have a highly motivated, committed, ambitious, dynamic sector!


Ali completed her overview by stressing that once we have a new Prime Minister and Cabinet we can engage with them in 'robust' discussions the ambitions of our sector and what policy measures we need in return from Government to deliver them!



Dr Debbie Wilson heads the Knowledge Exchange team for Horticulture in AHDB. She has worked with the technical challenges of the Horticulture Industry for over 25 years.


Debbie Wilson said SmartHort is targeting two strands; one - aiming to identify and improve ways of delivering labour efficiency and through technology. We have already made huge advances with mechanisation and robotics.


Technology and AI linked to Robotics are part of the process. Regarding labour efficiency SmartHort has started with a review step looking at what scope we need to offer and as a first step commissioned 20 'workshops' aimed at improving labour efficiency. The workshops cover all areas of labour efficiancy; harvesting, supervision etc. these have been delivered.





Strategic Centres


There are three Strategic Centres, where groups of growers can come together with management consultants and learn from the strategic site's practices and introduce their own ideas/experiences.


Debbie said: We have launched a competition to match expert engineers from the manufacturing industry with horticulture producers to develop new technology


The winning grower will collaborate with automation systems experts from WMG, at the University of Warwick. The two year project will aim to find an applied solution to a problem within their business to improve labour efficiencies.

The judging criteria will ensure that the selected project will develop novel technology and be beneficial to the wider horticultural industry.




Session 2. "Future Immigration Policy and What it Means for Horticulture"


Below: Left to Right: Helen Whatley MP - Stephanie Sloan - David Long - Stephanie Maurel & Ali Capper



Labour availability is never far from a grower's mind, particularly as Government consults on the future of immigration post-Brexit. This panel brings growers, labour providers and Defra together to discuss the needs of the horticulture sector for both permanent and seasonal labour, and how the post-Brexit immigration policy could impact this.


Ali Capper - Chair of the NFU Horticulture & Potatoes board since 2016.


Ali Chaired the session


Stephanie Maurel


Stephanie is CEO for Concordia, a labour provider recruiting seasonal labour to work in the UK horticulture industry. Concordia works with 200 farms across the UK supporting them in recruiting their seasonal labour, priding itself on its ethical way of working and is one of the two operators awarded a licence to recruit from outside the EU this year for the Seasonal Worker Pilot.


Stephanie explained how Concordia has been implementing the new 'Seasonal Worker Pilot' scheme which allows workers a six month visa to work in this country. We report into DEFRA on a weekly basis reporting who is; 'on the ground' so they have a picture of numbers. Our license at Concordia from the Home Office is dependent on people getting Visas, people arriving at the right farm, (not getting lost) and people going home.


We are working with partners we trust and who we have worked with before and selected 24 growers across the UK who 'cross match' with the criteria we were looking for: crop types, areas where historic shortage of pickers has been reported.


After initial slow progress in the chosen 3 countries: Russia, Ukraine and Moldova (Russia no problem) the ability of workers gaining their Visas from Ukraine has now been sorted. Workers can now gain an appointment at their Visa office - fulfil the criteria including finger prints and receive approval back from our Home Office within 4 weeks.


They are now able to collect their Visa's as they leave the country.


Going forward; 2,500 is not enough, we know it is not enough. This initial Pilot scheme must be seen, not as a solution for now, next year or 2012, but it is a demonstration that we (the UK industry) can manage a scheme which will deliver in the future.


David Long - Fruit Grower


David is the owner and manager of D. G. Long, a 1,500 acre family owned farm producing pears, strawberries, arable crops and sheep. Prior to returning to run the family farm David worked for Bomfords as a Farm Coordinator, responsible for 3,000 hectares of growing and harvesting on a large salad and vegetable production unit. David has a clear focus on the business's human resources requirements, building a strong management team and supporting the progression of seasonal staff into permanent highly skilled roles. During the seasonal peak David employs around 100 people on the farm. The protection and enhancement of the environment is also a central concern across the farming business. David also sits on the NFU National Horticulture and Potatoes Board, the Fruition Producer Organisation Board and the North Kent Internal Drainage Board.


David said you will hear a lot of numbers and opinions here this morning, but my brief is to show how this all affects the grower and his business: "my business"


David spoke passionately; in support of growers facing a 'need for government recognition' of the access to harvest labour by widening the capability of recruiting outside of the EU. The 'pilot' SAWS scheme being trialled with 2,500 harvest workers 'allowance' is good he said. "But I am not getting any of these 2,500 and the number is only a small percentage of the number we need!


The numbers (industry data) that have failed to arrive this year is more than in 2018 - the shortfall January-June is about 12% in June it was 23.8% so when it comes to peak harvest times, and make no mistake about it, it is costing UK growers millions of pounds!



Stephanie Sloan - DEFRA


Stephanie Sloan leads the Seasonal Labour Team within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). She is responsible for joint oversight of the Seasonal Workers Pilot with the Home Office which launched in March 2019; communication and engagement relating to seasonal workforce policy in the agri-food chain; and project management for the Access to Labour project, working across both the seasonal and permanent workforce work streams.


I think we all felt for Stephanie Sloan as she admitted she is relatively new to this role within DEFRA and only able to 'tow the company line' - which is we cannot promise additional numbers to the 2,500 allowed in the pilot scheme until we can verify the success or otherwise of the Pilot!


Helen Whatley MP


Helen Whately is Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Fruit and Vegetable Farmers. Her constituency, Faversham and Mid Kent, is one of the most productive horticultural constituencies in the country - with more horticulture NFU members than almost anywhere else. Since her election to Parliament, Helen has been a vocal advocate for growers in her patch - campaigning passionately for a new seasonal workers scheme, for increases to the accommodation offset and for public services in the UK to use more British fruit and vegetables. In October 2016 she established the All Party Group for Fruit and Vegetable Farmers to amplify the cross-party voice of MPs with an interest in horticulture. Since April she has been Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party.


Make no mistake about it, Helen is a champion in Parliament for our cause, it's her cause with Faversham and many fruit growers in her Constituency of which she is proud. Helen pointed out the reality of lobbying influence when our industry is small compared to Agriculture which has many more MP's with agriculture in their Constituencies. She said "how All Party Group for Fruit and Vegetable Farmers to amplify the cross-party voice of MPs with an interest in horticulture. Government works" is by bringing those MP's with similar issues to gether in a group; Helen founded the 'All Party Group for Fruit and Vegetable Farmers to amplify the cross-party voice of MPs with an interest in horticulture'.


Helen said we as a group are "Shouting loudly" in support of this sector. We know how badly this sector needs more labour, we respect the need for DEFRA to ensure the scheme is working, but we are all frustrated as we know the industry needs circa 70,000 and my Constituency alone needs 10,000 workers.


Fellow MP's may say; why can't British workers pick the fruit? 'AaaaaaaaaaaGH shouts Helen, growers have tried it but there are very few willing to do this work and we must have a reliable workforce to ensure Supermarket orders arrive in time!


Without doubt Helen is a passionate Champion for the fruit and vegetables. Thank goodness we have her supporting our industry.


That is all for this week's Journal - too much you might say and there is so much more I could have written - it is now 6.40pm on Saturday!




Next week's Journal will cover my visit to Viti-Culture a new Wine Industry event similar to Fruit Focus and held at Plumpton College. I will also add some pictures of other aspects of Fruit Focus.


Take care


The English Apple Man