These conference reports are written by the beneficiaries of our travel fund.
Click here to read more about the fund and apply yourself
My first destination was the symposium organized by the ISHS and the first signs of the symposium were as soon as we went through immigration at Beijing Airport. Symposium flags (including pictures of the ‘strawberry baby’) lined the route all the way from the airport to the conference centre, getting more frequent the closer we got to the centre. During the symposium it became apparent that strawberry production is BIG in China, with strawberries grown in most provinces with the main market for the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year). Chinese varieties produce large fruit with a good flavour and are sold in a variety of ways including 5 or 6 on a kebab stick, each one covered in chocolate. The price is high, so high that the 1500 delegates were not given a single strawberry at the conference centre, though strawberry plants with fruit were used as decoration in the auditorium.
The oral papers and posters covered every aspect of strawberry production from germplasm sources and breeding to evaluating production systems and pest and disease control. I was impressed with the genetic resources available in the 15 wild strawberry species in China. There were delegates from almost every country in the world, reflecting the fact that strawberries are now grown and marketed worldwide. As a plant pathologist, there is a salutary lesson in that the diseases are also now worldwide. A dominant feature in the crop protection sessions and posters was the impact of the worldwide withdrawal of methyl bromide and the search for alternative soil treatments. In China there is much research on biofumigation and also the use of ozone as a disinfectant. As a plant pathologist I also confirmed my view that breeding programmes for strawberries concentrate on flavour, aroma, size and colour ahead of disease resistance. It was also obvious that world wide legislation on pesticide use is also having a major impact on the industry.
The symposium included a day of technical visits when the morning was spent at the Strawberry Expo which included a strawberry festival (but still none to eat!). Apparently the bees were a bit tired or lazy and so girls were employed, complete with camel hair paint brushes to do the work of the bees. The afternoon was spent visiting 2 strawberry gardens which were fascinating. Round Beijing strawberries are grown in ‘Solar Houses’ which capture heat on a north facing wall and black polythene covering the soil and have polythene half tunnels covering the plants. At night, when the sun goes down, the heat is conserved in the houses and kept above 6Âº by a cotton blanket which is rolled down over the polythene. The first garden that we visited was a cooperative of 140 farmers and basically ‘organic’ using a wide range of biocontrol measures. Here the bees were working well and there was plenty of fruit which we were allowed to sample!
The second garden was a ‘you pick’ garden (the equivalent of pick your own) which is apparently very popular as a day out. There was great excitement amongst the delegates here as we were all given a large box of strawberries to take away! After the Symposium my trip continued with a visit to China Agriculture University in Beijing, and an official meeting in Beijing. The final stage of the trip was a flight for me to Hohot in Inner Mongolia where I gave presentations both at the Institute of Agronomy and Animal Husbandry and at the Agricultural University.
I also received an honorary Professorship at the Institute, which has a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Hertfordshire.
I was very fortunate that my research student Xiaolei Jin was able to come to the symposium with me and also I was able to see a couple of former students whilst I was in Beijing who made sure that I did some sight seeing. They even took me to see the preserved body of Chairman Mao, and were surprised to find that as a student in the sixties in the UK I had some knowledge of him and his activities!!! The most unexpected event was arriving at the hotel of China Agriculture University, and being met by Professor Z L, who told me to sit down, and said ‘XY (a former student) will be here in 3 minutes’ and he was, having flown to Beijing for the day from Wuhan and when we worked out that neither XY nor I had been to the Great Wall, we went that day whilst Professor ZL waited all day for an important phone call!
I would like to thank the BSPP for their assistance of a Travel Award to enable me to attend the symposium. My whole trip to China was very stimulating and I look forward to further visits and collaboration with researchers in China as well as the ICPP in August 2013.
Avice M Hall
University of Hertfordshire