"If the past four years have taught us anything, it is the importance of fostering collaboration throughout the entire supply chain," remarked Paul Falkner, Treasurer of the Tomato Growers' Association and Head of Sales at EVG, during his opening speech at this year's British Tomato Conference. He expressed his delight at the substantial representation from seed houses, growers, retailers, and various stakeholders in attendance.
Paul Falkner opened the British Tomato Conference.
A simple task...
Paul commenced the annual event by reflecting on the organization of the 2019 conference. During that pivotal year, the conference shifted its primary focus from Brexit to the emerging Rugose virus. "These haven't been the only challenges faced," said Paul, recalling a series of obstacles, including pandemic-induced lockdowns, labor shortages, transportation disruptions, packaging issues, and the complexities of post-covid economic recovery, all of which contributed to rising energy prices. Moreover, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. "The government instability has added another layer of insecurity to what seems to be the simple task of growing tomatoes," he said, adding that he remains positive seeing the resilience of the industry, coming from the hard work and determination of the people in the room."
The British Tomato Conference has been instrumental in addressing many of these challenges. Joe Beard, representing Rijk Zwaan, provided a comprehensive overview of the emergence of the Rugose virus and shared the latest updates from the breeding company. This included information about the availability of resistance varieties currently undergoing testing by leading growers to ensure their agronomical value. According to Joe, combining HR (High Resistance) varieties with good hygiene practices offers the most effective solution against Rugose.
Paul Simmonds, Joe's colleague, delved into the global implications of these resistances. He highlighted that different countries have varying attitudes and approaches to the virus. However, one common thread unites them all: every country around the world has felt the impact of Rugose. This fact is underscored by the numerous growers from affected countries who have reached out to Rijk Zwaan in search of resistance varieties.
"It starts with a single case, then a second, then a third, and suddenly, there's an outbreak. You can see it coming," he explained. Encouragingly, the results from trials with resistant varieties have been promising, as Paul's examples illustrate. "When I step into the greenhouse, it's easy to spot our trials because the resistant plants remain healthy and green, while all non-resistant ones are infected, regardless of the producer." These commercial experiences have bolstered the team's confidence in their varieties.
Paul further recalled instances where resistant varieties, which also seem to thrive in low- or mid-tech conditions, were interplanted on an infected substrate and continued to thrive. "In France, we've observed that even growers without significant virus pressure may choose a resistant variety because it performs better than their previous choice." This serves as an example that underscores the fact that opting for a resistant variety does not equate to a decline in quality or yield, as Mark emphasizes.
The conference is combined with a trade show. Mike Vermeij & Martin van Zeijl with Bom Group are present.
Also on the agenda today are market and marketing updates, energy and policy outlooks, and a trading floor where suppliers present themselves. The day will be concluded with a drinks reception and a conference dinner.
Tomorrow, we'll publish a full recap of the event.