HEREFORDSHIRE welcomed the International Blackcurrant Association for a two-day growers conference this month.

A strong turnout of 60 delegates from nine different countries attended the conference on June 5 and 6.

The objective of the IBA is to bring growers, agronomists and processors together for long-lasting partnerships, with sustainable production of the beloved blackcurrant.

The group first visited Pixley Berries, Ledbury, specialist bulk-packed aseptic juice ingredients suppliers and blackcurrant growers. All of the blackcurrants grown at Pixley are used in their own juice production which serves an impressive portfolio of well-known brands and retailers, from Innocent Drinks to craft producers.

Starting at the pressing factory, managing director Anna Ralph, explained the process and took the group through the BRC AA factory before presenting various finished products that their Not From Concentrate juice goes into. They also showcased their own fruit cordials, a fully vertically integrated product.

Hereford Times: Delegates inspect the fields at Pixley BerriesDelegates inspect the fields at Pixley Berries (Image: Pixley Berries)

Following this the group visited the blackcurrant plantations with talks from industry professionals.

Michael Garnier from Valagro explained the use of biostimulants and bud break technology that Pixley Berries have been using to encourage vigour in plantations and even bud break which has been delivering excellent results. Jonathan Blackman, Hutchinsons, gave a talk to the group about deficiencies of phosphorus which was found in the fruit and subsequent juice. Applications to the leaf have corrected this and fruit and juice is now within specifications.

White Heron Properties hosted the group for dinner on Monday. A blackcurrant theme was maintained throughout with the welcome drink a Kir Royale, using British cassis and fitz, English sparkling wine, with blackcurrants and grapes grown on-site at the Whittern.

President Florent Baillard awarded Edward Thompson of Pixley Berries honorary membership in recognition of his involvement in the association, his commitment and dedication to the global blackcurrant industry and his tireless efforts to bring together the collaboration and knowledge share of all producing countries. Edward was part of the initial group that formed the IBA in 1993 so this is a well-deserved accolade.

The second day began with a prompt start at Whittern Farms, Lyonshall. A fourth-generation family farm owned by the Hilditch family, producing blackcurrants for LRS Suntory and also their own brand, British Cassis. James Wright, farm manager, led an insightful tour.

The UK market is dominated by LRS Suntory, who use 90 per cent of all blackcurrants grown in the UK.

The AGM then took place where a new president was elected, Guillaume Marie.

This was followed by a presentation on different methods of weeding, a hot topic amongst growers as they look to reduce the use of chemicals. The afternoon visit took the group to AJ and CI Snell, the largest organic blackcurrant producer in the UK.