Growers hold crisis talks to determine potential to save loss-making Kirton

Beleaguered Kirton research centre may be saved from closure if the industry thinks it can come up with a credible business plan.

A number of growers are holding crisis talks, following the University of Warwick's announcement earlier this month that it would close the research nerve centre (Grower, 14 August).

Director Graham Ward of Stockbridge Technology Centre (STC), would not confirm rumours that STC was lining itself up to take over Kirton. "But we are in the process of putting ourselves in a position with other parties of having exploratory discussions," he said.

He would not reveal who he was in talks with, but said they were business leaders, not academic institutions.

"Its survival will depend on the wishes of the industry. If the movers and shakers in the growing industry are not prepared to be guardians of Kirton, it won't work."

He added: "It's been losing £280,000 a year for four years: taking it over is like walking into a river without a life belt. But we are interested to see what's on offer.

"We would have to have a proper business plan, which could offer some sort of profit and return that would enable us to borrow money from a bank."

The 49ha site is run as part of Warwick's Horticulture Research International (HRI), based in Wellesbourne, Warwickshire.

HDC chairman Neil Bragg said his group was in talks with "various parties in the Kirton vicinity" on future uses of the site and employment of levy-payers funds.

"The outcome of these talks should become apparent by mid-September," he said. "But there are not enough basic, strategic and applied funds to maintain all existing R&D facilities."

Bragg said he was waiting for a Government- and industry-funded review on the strategic direction of research. Defra has been criticised for reducing research finding.

Research currently taking place at HRI Kirton includes Dr Roy Kennedy's development of predictive models for crops, pest and disease and his work on onion white rot composting, along with Dr Rosemary Collier's work on companion planting, which is being carried out as part of a LINK project.

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