RECORD FOOTFALL AT NATIONAL FRUIT SHOW AS INDUSTRY CELEBRATES RETURN
A record number of visitors attended the National Fruit Show (NFS) on 20-21 October in Detling, Kent as the industry celebrated a return to in-person networking.
One of the largest events in the show’s 88-year history saw a wide mix of new and returning exhibitors meet growers, government, retailers, manufacturers and other individuals working in the UK fruit industry.
The show marked the return of physical events in the UK fresh produce business following an 18-month hiatus caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. It offered the first opportunity for the industry to meet in person and discuss the many issues and opportunities facing the sector, as well as a chance to catch up with friends and colleagues.
“People were so happy to see each other again and the show had the feel of a reunion,” said NFS Executive Chair Sarah Calcutt. “The feedback was outstanding and it was clear what an important event it is in the fresh produce calendar. A lot of business was done at the show as people relished the opportunity to meet face to face again.”
The show was opened by NFS President Teresa Wickham, who was joined by Defra Farming Minister Victoria Prentis and NFU Vice President Tom Bradshaw. The minister underlined the government’s backing for the UK fruit industry during what she acknowledged are “very challenging times”, while Bradshaw called for more support in terms of seasonal workers in particular.
Top-class fruit and industry champions
The National Fruit Show is renowned for its highly competitive fruit competitions and industry awards, and despite a tough growing season with challenging weather conditions, 2021 was no different.
Clock House Farm in Kent claimed a maiden Supreme Champion Award for its Braeburn apples, while the prizes for Britain’s Tastiest Apple and Pear went to Jeremy Lindsell for Gala and Brian Piper for Concorde respectively.
A total of 21 classes of apples and pears were judged, with other notable winners including new entrants Braiseworth Orchards for its dessert apples, and Katie Langridge, who won the Under 40s class for the third consecutive year in two categories.
The Taunton Cider Co. was named Supreme Champion in the cider competition, which was judged by well-known food and drink broadcaster Nigel Barden and drinks writer Melissa Cole. The blended cider and pear cider categories were both won by local Kent producer Turners Cider.
A new prize for 2021, the Jon Jones Award, was created in recognition of the late Jon Jones of fruit supplier Richard Hochfeld, whose selfless work was respected across the industry. The inaugural award went to fruit sector stalwart Carmella Meyer of Essex grower Peake Fruit, whose work both with her own company and on behalf of the industry through British Apples & Pears and other roles has been highly praised.
“For many years Carmella has attended meetings, built good relationships with government, represented the industry with distinction and always been kind and constructive,” said Calcutt. “That’s the spirit of what Jon embodied and makes her a worthy first recipient of the award in his honour.”
The Ian Johnston Award, meanwhile, acknowledges practical on-farm solutions that go beyond computers to improve growers’ toolkits, and the recipient this year was the OX truck, an innovative, environmentally friendly modular vehicle that can be constructed directly on farms.
Forum for debate
A heavyweight conference programme ran during the first day of the show, supported by the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers and sponsored by MHA MacIntyre Hudson. In the morning, Nuffield scholars and beneficiaries of the Fruiterers’ Awards Council grants programme outlined their work, alongside a no-holds-barred speech from food policy expert Professor Tim Lang, who used the platform to criticise the government’s food strategy and call for a focus on increasing UK food production.
The afternoon featured a lively discussion based around the question ‘How can farmers grow green when they are in the red?’ Panellists included Teresa Wickham, Kirk Siderman-Wolter from Agri-EPI Centre, Kent business leader Mark Lumsden-Taylor, former MP and trade minister Sir Richard Needham, and grower James Smith.
A night of celebration
Some 224 people attended the National Fruit Show dinner on 20 October as the industry celebrated its return in style with high-quality British food, dancing and live music. Alongside the festivities, an auction saw over £6,000 raised for the NFS’s Future Education Programme, which runs an extensive series of events from explaining the provenance of apples to primary school children through to outlining career options in farming to older teens.
Creating the National Fruit Show of the future
The committee of NFS organiser Marden Fruit Show Society is already hard at work on 2022’s event, and has revealed that crop production specialist Hutchinsons will be taking over as headline sponsor as incumbent Agrovista steps aside after nine years in the spotlight.
Calcutt also revealed that NFS is looking for passionate volunteers to step forward and help shape the future of the show. “We have a strategic plan heading into our centenary show and we’d love people to come forward, join us and help realise it,” she said. “We’d welcome views on what we can do differently and help develop an event that’s exactly what the growing industry wants. Any interested parties are encouraged to get in touch.”