By Elise-Marie Steenkamp

Not even the worst #CapeStorm in three decades could prevent fruit growers, industry representatives and researchers from attending the annual HORTGRO Science Technical Symposium 2017 which was held from the 5-9 June at Allée Bleue in Simondium.

This year HORTGRO Science hosted 24 sponsors and exhibitors, and more than 640 people during the week-long event.

The symposium aptly themed ‘Game of Fruit – the survival guide’ focused on business relationships in the new South Africa and the value of diversity, seeing opportunities in challenges and overcoming adversity, exponential technology growth, how to make money in the fruit game, understanding consumers, growing the trees that growers want, and intensifying fruit production in a sustainable manner.

Game of Fruit 2017 Summary Report by Dane McDonald on Scribd

Dowload Summary Report HERE

This year delegates from a far afield as Gauteng, Free State, Eastern Cape and Western Cape attended the event which has its roots in the Cape Pomological Association. It has grown into its current format over several decades.

This was the second time that the symposium included the new grower day – aimed at new entrants in the industry, and a postharvest day. This is the sixth year it has run under the banner of HORTGRO Science (previously known as DFPT Research and Fruitgro Science).

The scene was set with the pome fruit field day which was attended by a record number of 321 delegates in the Warm Bokkeveld of the Ceres Valley and was organised by Piet Nieuwoudt. The stone fruit field day/workshop shifted this year to Montagu, again under the competent management of Charl Stander, with 114 delegates attending.

Four of the 55 speakers were overseas experts in their various fields, they were:  Dr Roger Harker (Plant and Food Research, New Zealand), Joan Bonany (IRTA, Spain), Han Fleuren (Dutch orchardist and owner of Fleuren Nursery), and Michael Zoth (Competence Centre Obstbau Bodensee Bavendorf, Germany). These international industry champions spoke directly to challenges using the latest research and experiences from their respective countries.

The New Grower Day focused on integrated pest management with delegates having an interactive afternoon session with scientists where they had the opportunity to look at codling moth, fruit flies, weevils, nematodes and false codling moth under the microscope. The Western Cape Beekeepers Association also told delegates about the importance of bees and what it takes to be a responsible beekeeper and environmental champion (see Bee Charter).

Hugh Campbell, HORTGRO Science General Manager and the Technology Transfer Advisory Committee Chair said the symposium was an opportunity to expose industry players to new ideas, learn, re-align thoughts and self-evaluate. “This year delegates were challenged on different levels to think and do differently.”

According to Campbell the 101 day was an entomological journey, explaining how integrated pest management (IPM) works in orchards and culminating into what the consumer’s want.

For the pre-harvest day delegates time-travelled and assessed mega-trends and it was interesting to see the different changes that took place over the last ten years, he said.

“The biggest mega-trend drivers were producing the right quantity, the right quality and the right variety. It was also encouraging to see that our industry’s yield increased considerably over the past ten years and that that ensured the sustainability of the industry.

“We still have an opportunity to unlock potential from the on-tree pack-outs per hectare. On the technical side we have to focus on improved production and efficiency, by improving our nursery tree quality. Joan Bonany also spoke about this aspect as well as the intensification of production,” he said.

From a Hortgro Science perspective, Campbell said that it was good to see that the Orchard of the Future project is strongly aligned with international best practices as explained by overseas experts like Michael Zoth and Joan Bonany.

On the ‘soft side’, Campbell said that the message to all South Africans was clear: “In order to improve business relationships we need to get back to basics and recognise the person you are dealing with by building trust. We need to put ourselves in others’ shoes and grow our emotional intelligence. Diversity creates tremendous opportunities in our country.”