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UK: Horticulture decisively rejects AHDB in petition

The horticultural industry has provided an overwhelming ‘no’ vote (with just 39% of growers voting to retain the statutory AHDB levy) in the official ballot which closed last week. This result comes as no surprise to the AHDB Petitioners and confirms beyond doubt the findings of their own ballot last summer: growers do not want the statutory levy in horticulture to continue.

However, growers have expressed concerns about what appear to be last-minute attempts to change the way the vote is expressed. Spalding-based flower grower Simon Redden says: “As the AHDB well knows the statute is quite clear and requires the ballot to be based on ‘one business, one vote’. Nearly two thirds (61%) of qualifying levy-payers have decisively voted against the statutory levy.

“However, Mr Saphir now appears to be blatantly trying to change the rules of the ballot to suit his own interpretation on the basis of total levy paid. This is clearly a desperate and disgraceful attempt to influence ministers whilst trampling on the views of the two-thirds of levy-payers who have voted to get rid of this statutory levy. It lies outside the rules of the ballot and must not be allowed to prevail.”

“Basing the result on the amount of levy paid, instead of one business, one vote, is a last-ditch attempt to save AHDB Horticulture. It is not democratic and can be compared to closing the gates on the third-class passengers on the Titanic – letting them drown in an attempt to save the first-class passengers who pay more.”

One vote
Vegetable grower Peter Thorold added, “Contrary to the picture that Mr Saphir is trying to paint, this is not a complex interpretation – merely an assault on the democratic premise of one person, one vote.”

The petitioners say that these attempts to skew the result of the Horticulture Ballot also affect the current Ballot on the continuation of the statutory levy for potatoes.

Vegetable and Potato grower John Bratley points out that if Saphir’s train of thought is taken to its logical conclusion, then three-quarters of potato levy payers (around 1,500 growers) will have the value of their votes queried by AHDB, who will claim that their payments are too low. “This is appalling,” he says. “What value is there in any of the ballots of the future that he keeps promising us all if they keep trying to move the goalposts?”

Interest of members
The petitioners also say that NFU now needs to clearly represent the interests of its members and criticise these actions by the AHDB. With an estimated 75% of voters being NFU members (based on data collected in 2020), the NFU needs to clearly support the one business, one vote basis of the current AHDB ballots.

Simon Redden concludes: “The stimulus for our collective action was the appalling response of 0.5% to Defra’s own review, which since then has been used by Ministers, Defra, and AHDB to justify retaining AHDB in its current form. Hard-pressed growers who have benefited little from the poor value of AHDB over the years will not tolerate this situation any longer. They have clearly spoken and voted to end the statutory levy.”

For further information or interview requests, please contact:
John Bratley, 01775 840322
Simon Redden, 01775 722670
Peter Thorold, 01775 840360

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Scientists unlock potential to yield “diet” fruit

A new study has demystified sugar distribution in plants, paving the way to create low sugar or ‘diet’ fruits. The study, published in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), culminates
seven years of research by the University of Newcastle’s Professor Yong-Ling Ruan from the School of Environmental and Life Sciences, in collaboration with peers at Northwest A&F University.

Professor Ruan said their research pinpointed the indicators that governed how much sugar is transported to the vacuole or ‘storage warehouse’ of a plant cell.

“This discovery provides new tools and directions for improving plant growth, defence and sugar levels using gene technology,” Professor Ruan said.

“It opens the door to increase or reduce the amount of sugars in plants, helping farmers to increase the quality and yield of fresh products such as fruits and sugar cane or produce low sugar, high sweetness fruit for a diabetic patient.”


The science behind sugar transport in plants
At the cellular level in plants, sugars are delivered to the cytoplasm – a thick solution that fills each cell. The remaining sugar is then offloaded in the vacuole of the cell.

Professor Ruan was driven by curiosity to understand exactly how sugar makes its way from the cytoplasm to the vacuole. Understanding this link could help scientists answer long-held
questions such as why fruits are so sweet yet leaves are not.

By studying apples and tomatoes, Professor Ruan said the team discovered that two different types of sugar transporters work together to transport huge amounts of sugar into vacuoles.

“We found that glucose exported to the cytoplasm by a transporter called ERDL6 activates the expression of a major sugar influx gene. This significantly increases sugar levels in the plant
cells,” Professor Ruan said.

“Our findings represent a major advance in understanding the molecular control of sugar transport and signalling within plant cells.”

For more information:
Penny Harnett
Tel: +61 2 4921 6779

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“Our goal is to reach more than 400 hectares in the next 3 years”

Since 2019, FD Berries in Jalisco Mexico has utilized the FibreDust True Blue Blueberry growbag and couldn’t be happier with the results. After the company established themselves in Mexico in 2019 to produce substrates locally, they’ve also started producing blueberries there. Today, FD Berries has more than 100 hectares of blueberry production in Jalisco, and its goal is to reach more than 400 hectares in the next 3 years. The by-product of the local produced coco substrates, is coco fiber, which is now offered as a solution for erosion control.

Coir use in blueberry
“The advantages of coir use in blueberry cultivation are well documented, but there’s nothing more convincing than seeing a crop flourish with your own eyes. That’s why when we had the opportunity to start growing blueberries, we didn’t hesitate. Besides, it has always been my dream, which of course was why we started looking for it in the first place,” says Sam Ahilan, president with FibreDust. Back in 2018 his coco coir company has expanded operations into growing blueberries, under the name FD Berries. “We have the biggest showroom for our locally produced True Blue blueberry growbags here.”

Rapid expansion
FD Berries company is established in the town Gomez Farias, in the Mexican state of Jalisco. After the first successful year of growing on 14 hectare, they added another 33 hectare and last year another 60 hectare was added. In the upcoming years, they want to triple or even quadruple the current size, general manager Jorge Chavez says. “In addition, we’re focusing on buying fruit from other people and export directly to the USA, Canada and Europe.”

“We’ve been growing in the same substrates since we started, which was 4 years ago,” Jorge says. “Growers are looking for a maximum of 10 to 12 years, and we can show them here that the quality remains good. Of course we check them regularly and there’s no degradation.”

Grow bag production
The blueberries are grown in two different bags: one is 27 to 30 liter, the other one is 40 liter. Both are produced locally: Last year the US based company Fibredust announced the expansion of their Mexican operation to include the production facility in Jalisco. This 10 hectare facility offers an avenue for coir made and shipped from Mexico. The by-product, the coco fiber, is currently on offer as well. This can be used for eco-friendly erosion control and can be shipped to Mexican or US companies quickly avoiding freight hikes and container delay.

Testing and development
In addition to FD Berries being a successful export company and the biggest showroom of the growing bags, it’s also a testing area for the development of new growing bags for the blueberry market as well as other soft fruits and even products like figs.

“The most important benefits of growing hydroponically are the better yields and the better control over your irrigation and water use. Then, growing in an inert substrate brings security to a company, as there are no pathogens that can harm the plant. This goes for blueberries and for other crops as well,” says Sam. “So does the benefit of covering the ground with a ground cover – which greatly helps to avoid a lot of weeds, saving a lot in labor.” Since the conductivity of coco coir is very low and the substrate can be washed in 12 to 24 hours, it is ready for growers to plant whenever they choose. “And for whatever crop they choose.”

FD Berries has its doors open for any producer or investor to visit its operations, both blueberry production and the substrate itself, and show them the secret of its success.

AgTech Americas visited the facility. Watch the video here.

For more information:

For orders of the coco fiber:
Andrew Pidgeon
(C) +1 860-919-6550

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Technique system

Appeal of Santa Ynez Valley greenhouse denial stalls

An appeal of a denial by the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission of a greenhouse near Solvang went unresolved Tuesday when the project was sent back to staff for an analysis of blackout curtains’ effectiveness at blocking light at night.

It appeared the Board of Supervisors might have had enough “yes” votes to grant Steve Decker’s appeal of the decision to deny his project, proposed for Fredensborg Canyon Road, but the board ended up voting 4-1 to seek additional environmental review.

Fourth District Supervisor Bob Nelson voted “no” based on 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart’s assertion that not enough technical information had been provided to determine the system’s effectiveness, even though Decker said the system must block light both going out and coming in, and companies would not build the systems if they didn’t work.

“I do believe we have enough evidence to approve this project,” Nelson said. “I believe this will be the death of this project and the loss of six jobs — that’s an equity issue in this county.”

Although the staff said the board could specify that the environmental review focus on the night sky light pollution issue, the motion did not include that, which leaves it up to the Planning and Development Department to determine how much review will be given all categories of potential environmental impacts.

County ordinances require an applicant to pay the costs of environmental review, but Decker didn’t seem inclined to do that, which could prevent his appeal — and therefore his project — from being approved.

Read the complete article at

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