Labour, Brexit and robotics in discussion at Fruit Focus

The hottest topics will be discussed at this year’s Fruit Focus event, giving producers the lowdown on effective labour management, Brexit resilience and robotics of the future.

“The NFU Fruit Forums, co-sponsored by HOPS Labour Solutions are the best place to learn about and discuss current trends and see what the future has in store for the fruit industry,” says Jon Day, event director at Fruit Focus. “There are plenty of challenges for fruit growers, from Brexit and labour to water and the weather, and the forums offer a great opportunity to approach these topics from a practical angle.”

10.00: Building resilience before Brexit. With Ali Capper (NFU horticulture board chairman) and Nick von Westenholz (NFU director of EU exit and international trade).

This session will include an update on agricultural policy and its likely impact on horticultural businesses. It will also focus on labour strategy and ideas for building resilience and mitigating the effect of Brexit on production and profitability.

“There is little doubt that we need an appropriate immigration policy that enables our sector to have access to the brightest and most enthusiastic horticulturalists post-Brexit: from supervisors and managers to seasonal workers,” says Ali Capper. “We need a framework that enables UK growers to be competitive with our European and international counterparts.”

11.00: The robots are coming, or are they? With Ali Capper, Debbie Wilson (AHDB head of horticulture knowledge exchange) and Edward Herbert (Founder of Dogtooth Technologies).

With the increasing use of robotic technology in fruit growing, the second forum of the day will explore whether agri-tech could be the answer to protecting and developing fruit production. Discussions will consider the funding and need for agri-tech in horticulture, and how it could help growers to cope with future market volatility and impacts of Brexit.

“As in any time of change, innovation will play an essential role in finding some of these solutions,” says Mrs Capper. “Agri-tech is an exciting area that has the potential to improve business efficiency and productivity.”

12.00: Are you the employer of choice for workers post Brexit? Recruitment and retention 2019. With Dave Back (BD Compliance) and Colin Hall (50 Club). Sponsored by HOPS Labour Solutions.

Finding and retaining labour is high on the agenda for many growers, so this forum will explore how to recruit and attract seasonal workers with the right incentives.

13.00: Precision growing of soft fruit – new innovations and technologies to enhance crop productivity, resilience and quality. With Dr Mark Else, NIAB EMR.

Improving crop productivity is a key area for growers and NIAB EMR will be discussing the precision growing of soft fruit, encompassing new innovations and technologies to enhance crop productivity, resilience and quality with. He will consider how precision growing, imaging and harvesting systems, informed by new mathematical models, can optimise yields and quality in an environmentally and socially acceptable way.

14.00: Economic viability of viticulture. With David Parkinson from WineGB and James Dodson from VineWorks.

English viticulture and wine production is on the rise, with English wine releases reaching a record high in 2017, it’s still vital to keep on top of the latest market trends. David Parkinson will be providing the results from a recent industry economic survey, which will deliver information on the expected growth of the sector and current market movements. Mr Dodson will help open doors to new entrants by discussing ways to enter the sector as well as site selection and climate, business planning and how to avoid some common mistakes.

“There is a lot of interest in wine production and the sector is growing rapidly,” says Jo Cowderoy, general secretary at WineGB. “This forum – for anyone interested in planting a vineyard – will cover key factors in planning and budgeting, as well as establishment and consideration of the product and sales.”