'Leadership in a digital, sustainable future.' That is the fourth edition of the International Strawberry Congress' slogan. It will be held in Antwerp, Belgium, from September 21 to 24, 2022. "Finally, after five years, we can welcome the entire international strawberry sector players back to network and exchange information regarding strawberry research, cultivation, and fresh market commercialization," says Eva Vanmarcke of Coöperatie Hoogstraten, which is organizing the event.
Connecting two branches
This cooperative began this initiative in 2010 in partnership with Research Center Hoogstraten, the Association of Belgian Horticulture Cooperatives (VBT), and the Flemish Center for the Preservation of Horticultural Products (VCBT). "The idea sprang from a goal to connect the strawberry sector's scientific and commercial worlds. Both these ever-changing branches do research. They'd, however, never really discussed this with each other, so the research often ran in tandem."
"We've found a way to connect these branches, so they can exchange information. This event was very well received from the very start. The first edition was particularly successful and resulted in many highly beneficial things for both branches. That ensured the congress became a recurring event, and to this day, the initial goal has remained unchanged," Eva explains. Three hundred delegates from more than 26 countries attended the last International Strawberry Congress.
That was, however, back in 2017. "We wanted to hold one every three years, but the pandemic threw a spanner in the works. We began preparations in 2020. But CVID-19 had a far bigger impact than expected, so we, unfortunately, had to cancel that planned edition." Now, five years later, the time has come. "The program includes two days of lectures, panel discussions, and poster presentations in the Flanders Meeting & Convention Center."
"There will also be a day when guests can go on interesting excursions. This year, for the first time, we will close with the International Mechanization and Demonstration Strawberry Trade Fair on Saturday. Organized by the Proefcentrum Hoogstraten, more of the practical side of cultivation is highlighted," Eva continues.
Digitalization and sustainability
The talks will focus primarily on the digitalization evolution and sustainability in cultivation, as well as the market. "Speakers like the CEOs of Saga Robotics and Blue Radix will talk about robotization in horticulture and artificial intelligence in cultivation, respectively. American trend watcher Daniel Levine will focus on the commercial world and will discuss the direction of sector trends."
"There are, naturally, significant challenges in the strawberry sector, too, given the all-too-familiar global issues. Global representatives will consider these events' impact on each part of the world and how best to tackle them. We all face these problems, but they, obviously, don't affect everyone in the same way. These conversations give a unique insight into others' situations," Vanmarcke says. British fruit and vegetable journalist Michael Barker will cover the entire event.
With this recurring event, the organizers have managed to achieve their goal of connecting the various players. A goal that could serve as an example for other product groups. "The ultimate dream is a special European or global association or committee where cooperation like this can happen regularly."
"For now, however, we're delighted to gather once every few years to evaluate how the industry is doing. And see how things are going with the topics discussed during the last edition. We look forward to welcoming the world back to Belgium," concludes Eva.