Top Fruit Meeting - Event Write Up

17 June 2011

The Producer Support team headed East for our top fruit day at Peter Hall’s farm near Marden in Kent. Brining with us our usual rain cloud, much to the delight of Peter, as they hadn’t received a drop of rain since the Easter weekend!

The format of the day was a producer meeting with our new director Helen Browning, followed by a farm walk around Peter’s concept apple orchard, vines and hops, followed by an organic ploughman’s lunch and then a formal meeting of the Organic Top Fruit Group lead by Ben Raskin.
Around 30 producers arrived in the morning to be greeted by the producer support team and certification staff. Phil Stocker gave the welcoming speech and handed over to Helen who spoke open and honestly about her intentions for the Soil Association in the future.  Please read the notes below for the outcomes of the day.

Meet Helen Browning

Helen Browning spoke to the group about her vision for the Soil Association including

  • Good Food for all – for instance through the Food for Life Partnership
  • Delivering organic food to the planet, SA a name to be trusted
  • Enabling practical changes, work with others
  • Plus where we are now, followed by ½ hr discussion.  
Other topics covered in the following discussion:
  • people believe ‘free range’ is better than ‘organic’
  • introduction of farm plans & what they’re for – for more help on developing your farm plan members can talk to our Producer Support team (0117 914 2400)
  • catering mark – this is development from our Food for Life Partnership work to encourage more local organic food into catering outlets private and public. There is a consultation happening on this at present, more details to be found here
  • where the market is:
  • Overall the market for organically certified fruit is at capacity
  • Dessert apples into multiples - multiples only allowing a certain slot or period of the year for them then import regardless of whether there is still UK fruit available (C.Wilson),
  • talk around different marketing strategies, for instance “Pear Necessities” Selling pears direct – There is almost no wastage plus all work on orchard done by volunteers from London (Antony Frogatt ‘Pear Necessities’).
  • Lack of varieties is a big problem for organic growers and the general feeling is that we should all be doing more work towards educating consumers about the range and qualities of varieties that are more suited to organic systems.
  • organic top fruit is sprayed more than non organic fruit
  • Problems of storage for some varieties, and that more research is needed into storage systems and varieties that store well. (M Wilson trialling some at Oakwood)
  • Systems which could ‘feed the world’: vegetable growing between fruit trees grown @ 6m intervals. Perhaps we need to think away from the traditional idea of an orchard and think how we can integrate good commercially viable systems into mixed farms
  • Elm Farm & East Malling to work on research – funding a big problem at the moment, but there are some opportunities out there
  • FIBL’s orchard designed for the future -
  • Planting top fruit in urban areas, open spaces/green lanes
  • Importance of root stock to withstand drought

Site walk of orchard with Peter Hall. 

Concept Orchard

The orchard has 10,700 trees on an M9 dwarfing rootstock spaced at 80cm to 1.2 metre depending on variety in rows 3.2 metre apart.
Establishment costs funded by Orchard World, supplying Sainsburys. Target farm then repays these costs over the first few years of production
·      Harvest in 2010 varied from 42, 45 & 50 tonnes/ha depending on variety
  • Intensive growing, several variety ofapples grown on ‘tabletop’ method (Dutch), now in 3rd year. No branch thicker than 1/3rd the width of trunk are left. Planted at 1,500 trees/ha. 
  • Feed trees with ‘approved’ chicken pellets.
  • Subscribes to detailed local weather forcasting system, cost effective.
  • Same technology as that used by non org fruit growers, has led to 50% less fungicide used in general, Peter also believes that the impact on non-organic growers of seeing what can be achieved on his organic system is very powerful
  • Farm plan agreed (Including possible applications) for the year at start of season, with SA Certification
  • According to weather prediction, sulphur sprayed at 1% dilution against scab & mildew. Sprayed every other row – just before rain & just after
  • Aphids (blue bugs) sprayed with simple soap solution/lots of @ bud burst, effectively drowning them. Then no further treatments needed for season
  • Pheromones used throughout orchard
  • Very difficult to sell Bramleys as organic – there is almost no market for organic cookers

Traditional Worcester orchard

We also saw this older orchard that is managed very differently with almost no management apart from mowing.


In addition to the apples Peter also grows some of the very few organic hops in the UK
  • Pests: Damson hop aphid and Spider mite – which ladybirds control
  • Disease: Downy & Powdery mildew – dusts with copper oxychloride on crowns & then no further treatment. 
  • ‘Approved’ chicken pellets applied around hops

Top Fruit Growers Meeting (pm)

After lunch many of the growers stayed behind for a more technical session. Unlike previous meetings where the group has mostly consisted of the larger UK producers, this event had a more mixed group of delegates and as a result the discussion was less concerned with the overall market and more about technical growing questions and potential new innovative ideas
  • Discussion of different rootstocks’ values: M25, M106, M111, M116, and their ability to withstand drought among other things (this is particularly relevant in the East of England where we have had one of the driest springs on record and threat of limits of water abstraction)
  • Mycorrhizae: There was a discussion around the value of adding these to your orchard either at planting or subsequently. It was felt that the greater the diversity on orchard floor the greater the range of mycorrhyzae beneath the soil. Their benefit is well understood and they have potential to act as root extensions, significantly increasing access to water and nutrients by the  tree roots
  • Community orchards – there was some discussion about how these are increasing in popularity and that there is significant opportunity to increase local fruit production by using marginal or small pieces of land in and around towns and villages.
  • Horticultural Symposium to be held over 2 days in October – more details on this will be on the SA website soon
  • There was suggestion that it would be very useful for SACL to log varieties of fruit being grown by licensees. Our systems are not currently able to do this, though we will pursue the possibility.

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