2011 Conference - France

The 2011 event is the 21st to be held, and will be centred in Angers in the Loire Valley region of France. Many currently involved in the fruit industry have attended and have had the opportunity during previous conferences the opportunity to walk through snow laden Kiwi in the hills of Emilia Romania, Fruit Research Stations in Germany and state of the art cooperative packing houses.

The theme for the 2011 Conference is “Changing Crops for a Changing Climate”. Due to climate change, the U.K. is becoming more suitable to grow crops that would otherwise be restricted to southern European countries. One notable example is the rapid expansion of the U.K. viticulture industry and its success in sparkling wine production. Delegates will visit a vineyard and a blueberry propagation and production unit and have the chance to discuss the opportunity and challenges these and other ‘new’ crops present. A “Changing Climate” will also likely to alter the occurrence and spread of pests and diseases in current and novel U.K. crops. Industry experts will be on hand to answer your questions.

On Wednesday evening after our arrival at The Hotel du France in Angers The Organising Committee introduced a seminar featuring some of the sponsors who traveled with The Under 40's. Presentations from Marks & Spencer, Agrovista, Bayer Cropscience Ltd, Fresca Group Ltd, and Pro Tech Marketing outlined the support each company is making towards the success of UK Fruit Growing.

Our first visit was to The Nursery and Orchards of Pepenieres Davodeau Legonniere on Thursday morning; here we saw the complete process from creating the 'stool beds' lifting rootstocks, budding rootstocks with the variety and lifting 'maiden' trees ready for new orchard plantings. Our host Laurent Legonniere also took us to the families orchards where we saw the increasingly successful variety Jazz as mature orchards yielding 70 tonnes per hectare; double the tonnage of UK Jazz orchards.

After a most enjoyable lunch in a converted Windmill we move onto the 55 hectare vineyard of Monsieur Lebreton at Domaine des Rochelles. This is an appellation controlle enterprise producing 250,000 bottles each year. While the tour of the winery and the tasting afterwards was enjoyed (increasingly with each glass) by all of our party, the earlier visit into the vineyard where we were given a thorough explanation of how the influence of soil and climate combined with grape variety determine the quality of the wine. Managing the pruning is also critical and we all came away with a much better understanding of pruning the different grape varieties.

On Friday we visited Monsieur Billotte at Arboconseil and Pepinieres Multibaieswhere we learnt about Blueberry plant production and visited the orchards where the 'fruit wall' system of apple growing is well established. In fact we met both father and son. Matthieu Billotte gave us a detailed overview of Global Blueberry production and how he has developed his specialist Blueberry Nursery. He sells 50% of his plants to Garden Nurseries and 50% to commercial growers in France and other countries; while there we tasted blueberries from Morrocco grown on plants sold by Mattieu to the Morroccan grower.

On Friday afternoon after yet another memorable lunch at The 400 year old Troglodyte Caves, we moved onto our last visit to Monsieur Traineau, a producer of Cherries, Apples and Lettuce.

The purpose of our visit was the Cherry Orchards. The system for growing there calls for 4 metre tall trees which in turn require mobile platforms for picking. Pruning is done mechanically, creating a 'fruit wall'

Of the visits we made, this system of Cherry production, although very productive, does not appear to offer any advantages over the current production systems on the modern intensive Cherry Farms in England. Potential yields seem similar while the taller trees in France require investment in motorised picking platforms.

Monsieur Traineau and his family have just opened a Farm Shop selling many cherry an apple flavoured products.

For the final night in Angers we gathered at The Hotel du France for the Gala Dinner. Afterwards Will Sibley a former Master of The Worshipful Company of Fruiterers delivered the after dinner speech.

Alex Myatt