Critics slam Technology Strategy Board for funding crop-protection research that won't be shared with industry

Industry figures have criticised the absence of levy-funded projects among those that were awarded a portion of £13.5m from the Technology Strategy Board's (TSB) collaborative R&D fund for crop protection, because of concerns that their findings will not be available to the wider industry.

The TSB revealed the 32 winning projects for its crop protection fund earlier this month - none of the 11 horticulture projects (accounting for £3.2m of funding) included Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) monies.

It means that unlike the HortLINK projects - whose funding was redirected to TSB by the previous Government - the research will be open to only those in the consortia that submitted the bids in order that they might profit from the intellectual property created.

In a statement released by the TSB, which jointly funds the New Approaches to Crop Protection initiative with Defra and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, it said the money was to "help growers adapt to the specific challenges posed by recent changes to EU pesticide regulations that threaten the withdrawal of a number of key crop protection products, as well as supporting the broader aims of the Technology Strategy Board's recently established Sustainable Agriculture and Food Innovation Platform".

But HDC chairman Neil Bragg hit back at the announcement, calling it a "travesty". He said: "Defra has put the money from HortLINK, which was extremely useful into something that's hardly useful to the industry at all.

"The problem with the projects awarded is they focus on individual companies so they are not in the interest of the horticulture industry as a whole. If that's the course the Government intends to take so be it but it is of no benefit to us."

He accused the TSB of overlooking applications including AHDB funds "from the start", arguing the industry could not be blamed when so many such applications had been made.

HTA director general David Gwyther agreed with Bragg, saying the news came as no surprise but remained "extremely disappointing". But Gwyther indicated the Government's quango review offered some hope. He said: "There is the possibility of some financial restructuring which might retrieve the situation for horticulture, particularly if Government recognises the role horticulture plays in managing climate change and improving the environment as the original coalition document said it would."

HDC business development manager Steve Jones said he had seen no indication that TSB would be abolished, adding the failure of bids deemed promising for match funding by AHDB was "particularly frustrating given the considerable time and effort that goes into it".

TSB lead technologist in sustainable agriculture and food Calum Murray said: "TSB is a business-focused organisation and one of the main aims of this competitive process was to support projects that looked as though they would lead to a valuable and viable business proposition for the UK agri-food industry.

"We went to great lengths to partner with the AHDB and included an option in the application process for consortia to opt for their funding, but when applications went through the external independent assessment process, only one of the projects that selected the AHDB option, proved to be in scope and of high enough quality for funding. Several of the projects funded do in our opinion contain elements that could be of future benefit to the horticulture industry.

"The Crop Protection Call was never a replacement for any form of link funding from Defra. The TSB has always refuted this claim."

- For a complete list of the projects awarded go to www. innovateuk.org/_assets/pdf/Other-Publications/NACP-projectlist.pdf.


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