The International Strawberry Congress 2022's focus was the strawberry market's challenges and its many opportunities. It was held from September 21 to 24 in Antwerp, Belgium. Organizer Coöperatie Hoogstraten had invited the entire strawberry world for four days of discussions about the tough times facing the strawberry market. The mood was, nonetheless, very hopeful.
The well-attended event's first two days consisted of talks given in the Flanders Meeting & Convention Centre, right near the Zoo and Central Station. On Wednesday, September 21, moderator Michael Barker, Hans Vanderhallen, and Kris Van Nieuwenhove opened the congress here. Daniel Levine then got the ball rolling with a lecture on trends in the fruit world. Several speakers then addressed the market's state.
"The normally stable strawberry market's supply side certainly faces countless challenges. Cultivation prices are rising; fertilizer is becoming increasingly expensive, and energy costs are skyrocketing. The costlier, and especially scarcer, labor force isn't making things any easier either," says Cindy van Rijswick of Rabobank.
Thus, at the congress, much was said about opportunities and alternatives. Whether that is automating greenhouses, using robots for crop protection and picking, or bringing strawberries to consumers' attention in different ways, like through social media and influencers. It was noted that shoppers' wishes and ease of use via, say, increased e-commerce needs more attention. "The general public is vital in these difficult times. The world's changing, and the market must keep pace."
Besides the wide range of speakers discussing the market, automation, and consumer behavior, research and sustainability enjoyed much attention too. After the first two days, the conference continued with a one-day field trip with visits to various companies to see cultivation and developments. The last day, Saturday, was the International Mechanization and Demonstration Strawberry Trade Fair, organized by the Hoogstraten Research Center. It focused more on the practical side of cultivation.
The organizers are generally satisfied with the event, which brought the entire commercial and scientific strawberry world together for four days in Belgium. "We're delighted with the influx of visitors and speakers," says Jan Engelen of Coöperatie Hoogstraten. "The visitors varied greatly, and I've received nothing but enthusiastic feedback."