Readers of The Fruit Grower will be greatly saddened to learn of the death of former fruit grower and fruit industry leader Hugh Lowe on 20 December 2015.
Hugh Burman Lowe began his career in fruit growing when he left school in 1949 and joined his grandfather, Bernard Champion, at Barons Place, Mereworth, in Kent. The family in those days owned a wholesale business at Covent Garden, which handled the sales of much of the fruit they produced. Following a break for National Service, Hugh took over responsibility for the farm in his early twenties. He rapidly projected a high profile in farming and countryside circles, becoming variously a youthful County Chairman of Kent NFU, a District Councillor and a JP. He was also a popular Master of Foxhounds.
In 1971, a group of Kent strawberry growers visited California and hatched the idea of forming a growers’ co-operative to help market their fruit. They engaged a young trader called Douglas Kemp and Kentish Garden was begun. Hugh was the inaugural secretary and famously claimed that KG in those days was kept within one box file. Early innovations in those first two decades included direct sales to the emerging supermarkets, plastic punnets, overwrapping, and the variety Elsanta, which was first grown on a commercial scale at Barons Place. Certainly, the commercialisation of everbearers was much advanced by Hugh’s enthusiasm for extending the season, using techniques such as cloches, mulches and tunnels as well as varieties such as Ostara and Rapella. Hugh became chairman of KG in the 1980s. These were expansionist years where the group became truly national and acquired members from Scotland to the West Midlands. Since the 1980s, Kentish Garden has become Berry Gardens, an all-year-round supplier of berries and cherries to the UK market, still owned exclusively by its grower members.
Hugh was a dedicated representative of horticulture at NFU HQ and a member of the Employers’ side on the Agricultural Wages Board for many years. He was involved in the early years of Assured Produce and in setting up the labour provider HOPS through the Young Farmers Clubs. Hugh was always interested in education and research and was, for many years, a Governor of Wye College. When East Malling Research (EMR) became independent of Defra in 2004, Hugh was a natural choice as the first Chairman of its Board; his vital support and involvement helped EMR through its first years of independence, such that it continues to provide the specialist fruit research and development on which so much of the industry relies. Hugh retained a passion for innovation and believed it to be the lifeblood of the industry, often writing about exciting developments and threats to funding in his monthly column for The Fruit Grower.
Hugh Lowe Farms Ltd, of which he was Chairman, is now owned and run by his daughter and son-in-law, Marion and Jon Regan, and is still specialising in growing strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. Hugh retired to Dorset, where he continued to follow hounds, on foot, and took an active interest in Hugh Lowe Farms, Berry Gardens and East Malling Research.
Throughout his long career, Hugh contributed a great deal to technical excellence in fruit growing, to marketing, to the regulatory structure within which the industry functions, and to education and science. He was a highly respected elder statesman of our industry. There can be few shoulders upon which would sit so naturally, and with such justification, the epithet “Outstanding contribution to the fruit industry”.