Dixon on... Progressive innovation

Horticulture is typified by innovative thinking. Leaders in change are producers of fresh produce propelled by cost reductions and price stagnation.

Using science and technology permits increased control of growth and productivity by individual plants even where these are grown in huge populations.

Identifying, for example, how roots develop in propagation modules results in more-even transplant establishment. Then aerial tracking in the field of individual plants towards harvest reduces variable maturity. Costly wastes are then eliminated and contracted volumes provided for retailers.

Alterations in soil nutrient supplies across fields are causes of variability. Fertiliser regimes rely on soil analyses. Here innovation is exchanging chemistry for physics, potentially increasing the precision of sampling. Probes using near infrared analyses are trailed through soil, recording data for a range of properties.

Fertiliser applications linked directly with these analyses give previously unattainable accuracy in nutritional husbandry.

The TruNject project combines commercial and technological expertise from Manterra, Stockbridge Technology and Professor Mouazen. Conceivably, modifications of this technology will eventually also benefit fruit, bulb and ornamental growers.

Innovative thinking also benefits social horticulture. Over a generation Britain’s social horticulturists have become world-leaders in understanding the effects of plants for human health and well-being. The results are new concepts for planning, planting and managing micro-landscapes and changing dietary habits.

People respond very favourably psychologically when their work and leisure surroundings are well planted.

Equally, their physical health is enhanced by diets that contain fruit and vegetables.

Environmental horticulturists should also be in the vanguard. There is a dire need for innovative thinking in planning and planting for the mitigation of climate change.

Currently, for example, the drive for housebuilding all too frequently fails environmentally in terms
of carbon conservation. Greenfield sites are converted into bricks and asphalt without adequate provision for lost soil-based carbon conservation.

Climate change and its consequences, such as water shortages, are the biggest threats facing mankind.

Regrettably, horticulturists have not yet developed their innovations for combating this threat. The result is that they are ignored and their talents are wasted.

As the Brexit debates intensify, horticulture needs strong, vocal leaders who understand and publicise its capacities for innovation and the community profits these bring.

Professor Geoffrey Dixon is managing director of GreenGene international

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