The Next Generation are California Dreamin’ 

In early May, I was fortunate enough to accompany a group of 52 individuals on the NextGen Fruit group’s  bi -annual international conference to California USA.  Oxbury are supporting partners of this important group, and along with other corporate partners, this trip helped to support and upskill some of the UK’s community of bright, talented, and motivated individuals that have a common goal of building successful & sustainable businesses in the fresh produce industry. 

California is one of the largest fruit & vegetable production regions and exports around the world as well as also producing around three-quarters of the country's fruit & nuts. 

The seven-day conference consisted of the NextGen members being hosted by 14 different businesses on a road trip that covered some 900 miles between Los Angeles and San Francisco. California offers some of the most advanced at scale agricultural technology in the world. The visits ranged from factory-scale inner-city vertical farms to plantations that disappear to the horizon.  

California is blessed with pretty much everything a farm wants, it has extremely nutrient rich fertile soil having been created from the Sierras mountain’s erosion over thousands of years. Along with a mediterranean climate and a huge irrigation network flowing from the mountains. While also boasting a ready supply of skilled farm workers and available cutting-edge technology from the many universities and technology companies nearby, a little like Silicon Valley.  

 There was no finer place for an enthusiastic group of fruit growers to learn from impressive farmers that manage vast production of high-value produce. The NextGen committee had an excellent itinerary, full days and travel time gave the opportunity for great conversation and to get to know one another. The communication between the NextGen group and supporting partners was admirable, finding common ground and making connections that will last for many years. 

The trip saw a range of visits, from a trip to ‘Plenty’ an industry leading vertical salad farm recently featured on BBC Planet Earth to a 500ha single plot organic strawberry producer, ‘Driscolls US’ who are one of the US’s largest berry growers, they gave a tour of their trial plots that develop some impressive (and very tasty) new berry varieties.  


Later in the trip, the group headed to ‘Family Tree Farms’ and their vast stone fruit ranch hosting the group for lunch demonstrating the notorious Californian hospitality. Next was one of the leading prepared salad processors ‘Taylor Farms’, specialising in prepared salad processing the scale highlighted the country’s insatiable appetite for lettuce.  

The group also headed to something a little bit different in the format of a commercial cannabis farm (Cannabis is legal in 38 US states), ‘Fog City Farms’ who are pioneers in vertical space for Californian growers, and through their partnership with a racking company, Pipp is now the top selling vertical mobile racking company for horticulture in the country.  

Moving onto a little downtime at ‘Jackson’s Family Wines’ who have quality wineries all over the world and are working to become carbon positive. The trip concluded with a trip to ‘Trattore Farms’ with Tim Butcher talking through some incredible insights into 'smart farming’ with his new company Agtonomy and a celebration of the trip and the outgoing committee handing over to the next team for 2024-26. 

The knowledge transfer worked both ways being accommodated by wonderful hosts, entirely open to hearing about UK production, our market, and different growing and production methods. While sharing their own insights into their business, with the group taking away new ideas and knowledge, very much inspired by the sheer enthusiasm and pride the US has for what it does.  

I was really the ‘old man’ of the bunch (I’m 57 with a few grey hairs!), but felt entirely part of the Next Generation – the future of UK fruit production will be safe in their hands, they have the power, desire and capability to revolutionise the UK and myself and Oxbury can’t wait to be part of it!