Fears over future of horticultural research as East Malling announces plans to cut jobs

Industry bodies have expressed concern about the future of horticultural research after East Malling Research (EMR) decided to make 11 redundancies.

Funding cuts from DEFRA mean there will not be enough money to fund all the researchers that have previously held posts at EMR. EMR head of science Chris Atkinson said he could not comment on the number of redundancies due to take place but said they always knew they would have to “tighten their belts” with cuts in 2008. Atkinson said: “We knew there would be a shortfall in funds.” Since 2004, EMR has known its commission from DEFRA would be cut from April 2008. It will then be cut again in 2009. There have been redundancies in EMR before, including in 2003 when it reorganised. But this time cuts will restrict EMR’s capability to do the research it is known for. HW understands that at least 11 people have received letters telling them that their jobs may soon need to be cut. The funding given to EMR for agriculture and horticulture is believed to be around £30m annually. Head of horticulture Bill Parker of research body ADAS said: “This will restrict the range of the things they do. They may stop work in small but well-defined areas that can be cut easily or end sections of work when researchers retire. He added: “This is an ongoing part of what’s been happening in the past few years. DEFRA budgets have been going down and it has moved research from traditional crop protection areas. The research industry as a whole has downsized. The total pot got smaller. It all de-pends on DEFRA policy and we do have policy changes. One of the difficulties is understanding what the policy changes are going to be.” Parker said: “We have to do what we do better and what customers want us to do. Research is a very competitive environment. The logic of the situation dictates if the major funder, DEFRA, reduces, you go somewhere else but there are not many places to go. It is mainly DEFRA that does large multi-year projects. Very few others will do that.” The bulk of DEFRA’s work is done by Warwick HRI but ADAS works more on applied science, including projects from HDC. An HDC representative said: “This is a reflection of DEFRA funding policy. HDC is liaising with management at East Malling Research to ensure that the current HDC-funded research programme will be delivered and that the site maintains the valuable required expertise to continue delivering on industry’s future R&D priorities across a range of crops. “We very much wish the EMR site well during this period of change and look forward to future long-term working together.” A DEFRA representative said: “DEFRA has guaranteed funding to East Malling Research up to 2010 and we fully intend to meet these contractual obligations. The annual funding, set out in their 2004 contract, has increased in line with inflation from £2.25m in 2004/05 to £2.4m this year. “Funding in the contract de-creases for 2008/9 and 2009/10 and ceases subsequently. It was always the intention, embedded in the contract to which East Malling Research was signatory, that funding would reduce over time since the purpose of the guarantee was to provide transitional funding to enable East Malling to move from a non-departmental public body to a private organisation. As a private organisation East Malling Research is able to draw in funding from a range of sources.”

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