The largest ever gathering of cider apple growers heard from industry bosses on Tuesday of the considerable export opportunities for cider and further research plans to improve the quality and quantity of their apple crops.

The farmers and growers welcomed the chance to hear first-hand of the research work that will benefit an already developing part of the agricultural sector.

With over 150 growers attending the Growers Conference in Gloucester was declared a success by organisers the Cider & Perry Orchards Network of Excellence (ONE) and the National Association of Cider Makers (NACM).

Helen Thomas, chair of the NACM’s Pomology Group said: “The partnership between growers and cider makers is both vital and mutually dependent.

“Their support in recent years has sustained the success of the cider industry and we need them to embrace and support our commitment to doing even more research work to improve their yields and deliver improvements in orchard management.

“The response from growers was very positive – just as we expected they are keen to improve their businesses and back a unique British industry based in rural communities.”

Farmers and growers heard about a study to attract pollinating insects like bees and how the right insects can also keep in check some of the pests that need to be managed.

The areas for future research were identified as developing new apple varieties – something that can take around 15-20 years; pest and disease management; and how the orchards of the future might be planted and managed.

Those that attended farm a significant proportion of the approximately 18,000 acres of cider apple orchards in England and Wales.

The domestic cider industry uses over 250,000 tonnes of UK apples, representing nearly six in ten of all apples grown across the country.

Among the speakers were leading academics in tree health, soil nutrition and organic agriculture, including the Soil Association.

Gilly Pollock, orchard network manager for ONE and organiser of the event said: “The network has seen a significant rise in members in the last year to over 125 growers with many new members from the West Country, so this event was an opportunity for our growers to meet up in one location and hear first-hand the latest industry news to help their businesses benefit.

“The event had a great buzz and the feedback from has been very positive, they are already asking about another event next year.”

Martin Thatcher, chair of the NACM and key note speaker outlined his view of a unique industry. He said: “We recognise that there are very significant export opportunities for the industry – both in products and knowledge transfer.

“There are few sectors where the UK might justifiably claim to a global leader, but in cider that is true – and true at a time when interest and sales have never been greater around the world.”