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21st – 24th September 2022
I was very fortunate to be funded by a BSPP travel fund to attend the congress; I have been working on strawberry powdery mildew since my PhD started in 2013. It has always been a rare opportunity to be able to attend an international conference that is specific to the crop I research on. Moreover, this conference had a lot of ‘Firsts’ for me.
It was the first conference I attended and was funded by the BSPP since I became a member during my PhD, for which I am very grateful. It was the first face to face ‘real’ conference I have attended since the pandemic. As you are aware, most of conferences were moved online for the past two years, including the International Strawberry Symposium in Italy which I attended last year, so I was naturally very eager to attend. In addition, it was also the first conference I attended since my recent appointment as a Lecturer in MSc Environmental Management (Agriculture) at the University of Hertfordshire. The conference was a good opportunity for me to build up connections, access the most up-to-date information and development worldwide, which can then be shared in my lectures to students. I was very grateful that this trip was fully supported by my department.
The conference was a success. The organisation was very good and we had a diverse range of programmes including two-days seminars, delivered by speakers from both academic and commercial sectors, networking and poster sessions, field visits and mechanisation exhibitions. The opening session on ‘Strawberry Yields Forever: Growing, Eating and The Future of Almost Everything’ was very interesting and informative. The speaker used almost entirely images to demonstrate trends on people’s perceptions on marketing and how this can be used to promote strawberry industry. Over the first two days, the conference had a series of parallel sessions on topics such as ‘sustainable crop management and fruit quality’, ‘strawberry breeding and physiology’, ‘strawberry growing and big data’ and integrated pest and disease management. I realised that technology has developed fast in the strawberry industry. People are trialling using far-red spectra to promote growth, using robots technology to control strawberry powdery mildew, using drones for yield prediction etc. There was an increasing focus on sustainable management as well, people are looking at alternative solutions such as sustainable packages, emission-free cultivation to reduce carbon emissions, as well as using decision support tools and biocontrol agents to reduce the use of pesticides.
My poster ‘The role of silicon as a nutrient/biostimulant in strawberries’ received great interest from participants. I was pleased to find out that many other growers are also using or planning to use silicon, and they were very positive about various benefits that silicon, as a nutrient, can bring to crops. Moreover, the talk given by my colleague Dr Avice M Hall on previous research in which I was involved on ‘on farm control of strawberry powdery mildew using a decision support system’ also received many enquiries from participants, from both Europe and the USA. The fact that this system is a real ‘research to field’ product, and is commercialised and being used by farms in more than one country generated more interests from many growers at the conference. There is a great potential that this system will be used by a growing number of growers in the future.
The field trip on the third day was another highlight for me. We visited Van der Avoird Trayplant in the Netherlands, where they are now trialling innovative technologies to produce disease-free tray plants with reduced carbon-emissions compared with traditional methods. Another farm in Belgium is using all recyclable cardboard for strawberry packaging instead of plastics. We also had a chance to visit its newly built glasshouse and watched the demonstration of using UV-C equipped robots to provide alternative control of strawberry powdery mildew.
In my free time, I also managed to visit Antwerp town centre and explored its historical and modern beauty. I was deeply impressed by its landmark central station and its Renaissance style city hall – decorated with 87 national flags, as well as those long bendy trams and buses, providing extra convenience for travelling within the city. I also visited the Antwerp Zoo, one of the oldest in the world, built in 1843. I thoroughly enjoyed it and took many photos which will be used to illustrate my lectures.
This four-day conference is one of best conferences I have ever attended. Not only because it offered a great opportunity to expand my academic knowledge, but the trip itself was also an inspiration in my life journey. I am very grateful to the BSPP travel fund for making this trip dream comes true.
University of Hertfordshire