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Record numbers of entries and new faces at Cherry and Soft Fruit Show

Tom Hulme, in his first year as Chairman of the National Cherry and Soft Fruit Show (NCSFS), had an especially good year to begin his tenure, although the very high temperatures throughout the three days of the Kent Show were a challenge for both people and the fruit on display.

Summing up the first day, Tom said: “It’s an outstanding display, even though the late cherry varieties are not ready due to the Show dates being brought forward. The fruit looks absolutely outstanding and the industry has done a good job – thanks for supporting us.” Another newcomer to the Show this year was Secretary Catherine Joules, who enjoyed her first morning of judging, when her role is vital in collating all the results. “It went brilliantly and I’m looking forward to next year”. Catherine, who is from a fruit growing family, will be bringing new ideas to streamline things next year – with carbon paper being replaced by a computer and spreadsheets!

The soaring summer temperatures brought on the cherries, following the rocky start to the spring, thus making sure that there were plenty of entries. Retiring Chief Steward Tony Redsell, with 60 years of involvement, said he thought the quality of the fruit on display was “extraordinary, especially after such a cold, late winter, but the good weather after made all the difference.” Tony thought it was a particularly good year for cherries and picked out the new variety Carmen for its outstanding flavour, that meant it was usurping the crown from Kordia. The Carmen entry from the Brian Piper Partnership won the St Michael Cup, that the judges award for flavour as well as appearance. It was also the basket of cherries in the Show that, by tradition, is chosen by the judges to be delivered to HM The Queen at Buckingham Palace later in the day.

NCSFS Vice-Chairman Henry Bryant commented, “We’ve had jolly good entries and much more soft fruit than I can remember, asthe hot weather has brought everything forward.” Graham Cuthbert, who shares Chief Stewarding with Tony Redsell, said, “I’m astonished to see such a wide range of fruit – it’s one of the best years for quality”. Graham was particularly gratified to see the new strawberry varieties bred at NIAB EMR making such a good display.

The JP Distributors Bowl for the highest points for all classes went to Elverton Farms, located near Teynham, Kent, who are great supporters of the Show every year and featured in many of the winning entries. They also won the highly-prized Fruiterers Company Medal for the Most Meritorious exhibit of cherries. The Fruiterers Company Medal for the Most Meritorious exhibit of soft fruit went to Hugh Lowe Farms, and Marion and John Regan were delighted with the win as it celebrates and draws attention to varieties from UK breeding programmes such as the one at NIAB EMR. A new late June-bearer variety Malling™ Allure is tipped by Marion as one for growers to consider growing.

F.W. Mansfield and Son was again a major winner, including the award for the Champion basket of cherries in the Show. Other strong contenders for many first prizes and trophies were Noke Street Farm, and B. R. Brooks and Son. Alastair Brooks was surprised and, of course, delighted that the farm team made such a strong showing in the soft fruit classes, winning, amongst others, the Mack Organisation Trophy for the best exhibit of strawberries. “It took four people to put together the entries” said Alistair, but obviously all the effort paid off.

Produced in Kent have organised the Taste of Kent Awards since 2004, with three awards for Kent growers exhibiting fruit grown in Kent. These awards are entitled “Garden of England Champions – Soft Fruit and Cherries.” The winners this year were the Brian Piper Partnership for cherries with the variety Carmen, Alastair Brooks for strawberries with Magnum, and John Myatt and Company for raspberries with Ovation. The winners will be invited to the Taste of Kent Awards dinner in March 2019 to accept their trophies.

The stunning visual display in the Cherry and Soft Fruit Tent attracts visitors to both marvel at and buy the fruit, and brings in cameras and TV crews. This year BBC South East political editor Helen Catt interviewed Kent grower and Berry Gardens Chairman, Alastair Brooks, with a backdrop of some of his winning fruit, about the subjects of picking labour and investment. Alastair emphasized how phenomenal the display of berries was, and that it gave great credit to the breeding programme at East Malling. Developments like this have helped with the continuing growth of the soft fruit sector, but his future depended upon his teams of pickers. “This is the big worry”, said Alastair, “we were planning to expand next year, but that is now on hold as we are already concerned that we will not have enough pickers for this autumn. It’s too risky to go ahead with expansion. We’ve seen 20% growth year-on-year for the last five years, but next year we will stay still and hope to pick what we’ve got!”