Dixon on...The UK's vanishing research community

Scientific research underpins Germany's continuing industrial success. Investments in mainstream science a decade ago included horticulture. The result is a generation of excellent young researchers intent on applying basic science to horticultural problems.

This exciting green science has caught the imagination of undergraduate students. Universities, "embarrassed" by swelling admissions, are hiring new staff.

Contrast that with Great Britain. At one end of the chain, no serious research-based university now offers degrees in horticultural science. At the other end, the volume of research output is so pitiful that fewer than one per cent of papers published in The Journal of Horticultural Science & Biotechnology are British.

Yes, the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council has set up a modest research effort. Yes, the Horticultural Development Company is struggling manfully with support for applied development. Yes, East Malling Research, Warwick Crop Centre and Stockbridge Technology Centre provide robust research frameworks. Elsewhere, there is a mishmash of brave efforts and minimal funding.

Britain needs coherent education and research that excites young minds with the opportunities offered by horticultural science. Thereafter, business and industry must offer meaningful careers.

This is a long-haul process requiring mature political commitment. In Asia and South America, they have no problems filling courses in horticultural science.

The economists’ mantra of unlimited food supplies eagerly awaiting export into Britain is losing credibility. Climate change is reducing availability and burgeoning populations elsewhere are seeking a greater share of remaining supplies. Britain can supply much of its fresh food. Bitter experience suggests ensuring our own supply of horticultural scientists is wise. Industrial failure as a result of running dry on science-driven innovations would be catastrophic.

Professor Geoffrey Dixon is managing director of GreenGene international


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