High yields based on latest thinking recognised with Progressive Farmer award

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The winner of the Progressive Farmer of the Year category, sponsored by Agrovista UK, in the Food and Farming Industry Awards is a fruit producer that’s used progressive techniques in every aspect of production to achieve an industry leading performance. A LEAF Demo farm with minimal environmental impact the business has fantastic approach to staff training and retention.

New Forest Fruit was established in 2008 by partners John Boyd and Sandy Booth.

It’s a fruit growing business specialising in strawberries, blueberries and its newest berry, the blue honeysuckle berry. The company grows, picks, packs and distributes fruit to the leading UK supermarkets and to local suppliers.

“It’s come a long way,” Sandy Booth told Farm Business. “This is a really unique micro climate.” The location, near the south coast, means that the business can produce strawberries particularly early. “We’re always two to three weeks earlier than Kent,” he says.

“French tunnels, for us, can start as early as 10 April,” he says. “Glasshouses don’t start much before the beginning of April.”

The New Forest Fruit company is full of examples of progressive farming, embracing new ideas in all aspects of production, including new varieties, new structures, beneficial insects and naturally occurring organisms, like compost tea.

Blueberries compliment the strawberries, and diversification into blue honeysuckle which also has the potential to compliment the blueberries.

It includes using the latest machinery, with modern, efficient tractors and road going vehicles, husbandry machinery to bespoke designs, manufactured specially for particular tasks which can save labour and/or increase health and safety.

Progressive techniques include switching from soil grown to substrate which eliminates the need for soil sterilisation and prevents fruit from mud splash and excess humidity which then reduces reliance on fungicides.

The company has used technology like crop covers which prevent fogging and mean a better environment for the crop, less need to use crop protection products, as well as more rational use of resources such as fertiliser and water, and minimisation of waste created by unnecessary creation of split fruit, rots and fungal diseases. Substrate and leaf analysis at key points of the crops’ development gives further verification of nutrient status, avoids crop stress through deficiency and maximises yield.

It has long standing relationships with suppliers of high quality growing medium and plant material – key starting points for healthy, high yielding crops. It applies rational use of chemicals and fertilisers in line with industry best practice and the requirements of crop assurance schemes, in conjunction with the most reputable qualified advisors.

Sandy Booth is clear about the objectives of the business in everything he and his colleagues do. They are to be:

Professional – to grow the finest varieties of fruit to the highest standards, blending th
best of modern techniques and responsible farming. Always being responsive to customer requirements and understanding that the difference between good and excellent is attention to detail.

Responsible – for the safety, welfare and career development of all staff, to the
environment and responsible for the quality and provenance of fruits, from plant to end user.

Progressive – as growers with ongoing trials of new varieties, different crops and novel systems. Progressive in management ethos; seeing staff are its most important resource. “We develop and promote from within the business whenever possible,” says Sandy Booth. “The sense of ownership and team spirit we have built is something we are all proud of.”

Pride – “This is our home as well as our workplace, we are very pleased to be a LEAF demonstration farm, welcoming visitors (by appointment) to see and question how a commercial fruit farm can balance the requirements of the market with long term environmental sustainability,” he says.

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