Established in 1967 as a forum for knowledge-sharing, debate and networking, the Under 40’s Fruit Growers’ Conference is a biennial event aimed at broadening the knowledge of bright young things within the fruit industry. The organisation is not singularly a source for support and guidance amongst industry youngsters, it also acts as a foundation for trade education, transporting a group of bright-eyed delegates to different countries to visit diverse fruit growers, witness technical advancements, learn about storage innovations and more.
Since 1967, the goal of the Under 40’s Fruit Growers (U40’s) has been to provide an effective forum for new ideas and to deliver an opportunity for learning about other sectors of the fruit industry, fresh innovations and the potential of best practice. Above all, the U40’s aims to build strong social and professional networks amongst growers to help combat issues with isolation, enhance individual career progression and move the overall fruit industry forward.
Recently the Under 40’s Committee, led by president Charles Dunn of Chandler and Dunn, chose South Africa as the destination for its 50th biennial Fruit Growers’ Conference, the organisation’s first ever trip outside of the EU.
Alongside Charles and his assiduous committee (including; vice chairman Paul Hamlyn, treasurer Chris Levett, sponsorship secretary Verity Holdstock, secretary Estera Amesz and Jane Antrobus), were 55 delegates from the British fruit industry, heading out to the Cape on this fact-finding, networking mission. Around two thirds of the participants were young fruit growers, the rest was made up of industry sponsors making this far-flung trip accessible for the fruit industry’s up-and-coming new talent.
Among sponsors was our very own Phoenix Media Network, the host of the London, Amsterdam and New York Produce Shows and Conferences.
“There are great synergies between what we are trying to create at our produce shows and what the Under 40’s can achieve through its two-yearly visits. We strongly believe that success is achieved and maintained through effective knowledge-sharing and strong business relationships,” says Briony Dunmore, business development manager at Phoenix Media Network.
“The trip was a unique relationship-building exercise and learning opportunity for all participants, and as a platinum sponsor, we were able to directly invest in the education of future leaders within the British fruit industry” she adds.
But why South Africa?
That’s easy, the ability to see fruit in production. By heading out of Europe to the southern hemisphere, delegates could escape the cold British weather and witness African farms during their scorching harvest season.
Jacques du Preez of Hortgro, representative of South Africa’s stone fruit and topfruit industries, presented to the group that combined table grapes, stone fruit and topfruit are grown on more than 80,000 hectares, producing approximately 1.3 million tonnes of topfruit and 343,000 tonnes of stone fruit annually.
Of this, 46% of stone fruit and 23% of soft fruit are exported globally, with a combined 43% taken being by the British market, making the UK South Africa’s largest single market.
Although Du Preez said that Hortgro’s market development campaigns in retailers and in the media have helped advance sales of South African fruit by more than 70% between the 2009 to 2016 seasons, the uncertainty caused by Brexit means South African producers may be forced to look to other markets for future growth and stability.
The fruitful schedule saw attendees visit market-leading growers within the Stellenbosch and neighbouring regions, each operation with an individual business ethos. The fruitful schedule kicked off with a visit to large strawberry-grower Zetlers.
Without a GlobalGAP Certificate and producing only for the local African market, Zetlers could present diverse growing practices to the group that are not seen amongst British and European exporters, and therefore started the week off with an insight into the local fruit production and trade.
On day two of the trip, together with a visit to forward-thinking agri-engineering operation, Red Ant, the group was taken around the picturesque Goosen family farm in the Ceres region of South Africa.
Established in 1861 by Johannes Cornelius Goosen, the farm is now run by fifth and sixth generations of the Goosen family. A successful business producing pome fruit, stone fruit, vineyards and vegetables across 400 hectares on two separate farming units, Goosen touched the hearts of the U40’s by presenting their sub-business, Denou Farming, 51% owned by the Den Haag Workers’ Trust.
Redressing the issues following the South African Apartheid, Denou Farming gives South African workers economic privileges not previously available to them, such as skills development, part ownership and management. Although BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) programmes have been criticised in South Africa, the Goosen Family business, Denou Farming, hosted a stellar example of workforce empowerment and motivation within the fruit industry and highlighted some of the ethical and racial struggles of farmworkers in South Africa.
Although many of the group were familiar with Haygrove for their successful berry production and tunnelling business within the UK, attendees were surprised by a visit to the appropriately-named ‘Haygrove Heaven’ on day three of this South African ‘roadtrip’.
The heavenly growing conditions of the coastal Hemel-en-Aarde Valley has supported Haygrove Heaven to establish itself as the premium raspberry supplier to the northern hemisphere and local markets.
The spotless growing and packing operation in an idyllic setting provided a great example of maximised efficiency and a brand story that can be brought into by buyers and consumers alike.
The sheer beauty of the setting and zero-waste policy meant delegates were wowed by the site and could instantly see the added-value in quality Haygrove produce.
This added-value is something British growers have potential to capitalise on, organisations such as ‘Open Farm Sunday‘ farmers to showcase their high-quality operations and open the door to better education into what it means to shop local.
Overall the trip gave interesting insights into innovations, techniques and farming practises as well as giving delegates a unique opportunity to network, share knowledge and learn together in a beautiful setting.
Charles Dunn has now come to the end of his two-year stint as U40s chairman and this was a great way to mark the end of his achievements.
Everyone who was part of the delegation was thoroughly impressed with the trip and is looking forward to the next visit – watch this space.