The cost of research cuts

For the past four years, our columnist Dr Ken Cockshull of Warwick University's crop centre has kept readers up to date with the latest findings from horticultural research published in scientific journals through his Research Matters column. He has covered a vast array of crops, targeting subjects of practical relevance to UK growers both now and in the future.

As he argues in his letter this week (see below), scientific research matters because it generates new knowledge that can "set the industry off along entirely new paths." In other words, it is the horticultural industry's lifeblood. It should therefore be of great concern to all of us that a core reason behind the drawing to a close of his Research Matters column this week is the increasing difficulty of finding relevant research from scientific journals on which to report.

That difficulty is, of course, a direct consequence of the withdrawal of Government support for horticultural research centres that has seen their number and output decline drastically. As a result, says Cockshull, growers have to rely increasingly on interpreting the results obtained in other countries with different climates, cultivars and cultivation. What they need is access to research carried out in the UK under our climatic conditions and with UK cultivars.

Thanks to the sterling efforts of those fighting on within our much diminished UK research base, work goes on, and we will continue to bring the latest findings to readers through our pages including our weekly Science Into Practice column covering HDC-funded projects. For now, a sincere thank you to Ken Cockshull for his contributions. Subscribers can access all 260 research projects covered in Research Matters at www.HorticultureWeek.co.uk/go/research.

 

Letter from Dr Ken Cockshull

It was with considerable sadness that I submitted my last contribution to Research Matters. 

I’m sad because I firmly believe that research does matter and I have enjoyed trying to provide growers with readable summaries of recent scientific papers. I’m also sad because of the present lack of government support for horticultural research in the UK compared with even 15 years ago. As a result, UK growers have to rely increasingly on interpreting the results obtained in other countries with different climates, different cultivars and often very different cultivation systems. 

The importance of scientific research is that it generates new knowledge that can set the industry off along entirely new paths. In my own sphere of glasshouse crops, understanding the principles of how light and carbon dioxide combine to control plant growth led to the development of supplementary lighting, and also CO2 enrichment.

Similarly, I would include the concept of controlling pests by biological means, the culture of plants in hydroponic systems in order to eliminate soil-borne diseases, and the discovery of the control of plant development by changes in daylength and by average temperature. These discoveries have all been adapted by growers and researchers in many ingenious ways.

I believe that the best research is done by scientists because of their training, and because they have time to think about a particular problem. That is not to deny that growers can have a significant input but commercial pressures and the pressures on their time often restrict what growers can achieve in research. However, once scientific findings are explained, many growers are remarkably adept at developing and adapting them to suit their particular circumstances.

It has given me great pleasure to have worked with many such able and extremely resourceful people and their advisors.  I wish Horticulture Week and the horticultural industry the very best in the future.
Ken Cockshull


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