Call for collaboration across all sectors to 'stretch' levy for R&D

A shake-up of Horticultural Development Company (HDC) research projects, including collaboration with projects in other sectors, has been proposed.

At the Contact 2011 nursery stock conference in Birmingham earlier this month, HDC technical manager for ornamentals Jason Pole said there needed to be fewer, more focused research projects in the future and more input into projects carried out by other Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board bodies.

He said: "We have the smallest pot of money but by far the largest number of crops to cater for - there are thousands of crops in horticulture - and that's one of the challenges we have to face.

"Hardy nursery stock makes up about 10 per cent of all HDC projects and since the last HTA Contact conference in 2009, the HDC has finished - or has ongoing - 50 hardy nursery stock projects. But this causes numerous issues because it's extremely difficult to maintain all these projects."

He proposed a change to the system that would result in fewer but better-focused projects based on growers' priorities and needs.

"The only way we can secure the future is by combining our money way up the line through more strategic commissioning. We have to ask the industry what the priorities are," Pole told the HTA-run event.

"For every project that we consider we probably reject three more and we don't have time to focus - the idea of having fewer projects is to enable the panel more academic input into their work."

He said the levy body must interact more with foreign counterparts to benefit from the work they are undertaking in the sector: "We need to go and speak to other organisations and see how we can capitalise on what they are doing."

Horticultural consultant and HDC board member John Adlam backed Pole's proposals and praised the importance of HDC research work.

"I'm yet to see a nursery anywhere in the UK that has not benefited from HDC research and is benefiting from its work. It's possible to stretch the levy that you pay and get more for it," he suggested.

"There are more than 300 HDC projects that have implications for the hardy nursery stock sector, but we need to look at collaborating with other sectors - for example, putting a hardy nursery stock plant into a strawberry project.

"All it needs on our part is a little bit of courage. The levy is there to enable us to make more profit and increase our turnover, so take up some courage and use some of these projects."

Horticulture Week was media partner for the event.

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