"Horticulture" won't get young people into growing, says research head

Harper Adams University is bringing new entrants into technical roles in fresh produce while avoiding the term "horticulture" in its undergraduate courses, the director of its Fresh Produce Research Centre has said.

Image: HW
Image: HW

Speaking at last week's Tomato Conference, Dr Jim Monaghan said: "We don't do a 'horticulture' or even 'fresh produce' degree for students because that's not what they want at 17. I need to twist them away from big tractors. You can't teach 'horticulture' because it means something else to young people."

He said the "game-changer" for students is the mandatory 12-month work placement, which sees 25-30 food and farming students being placed in fresh produce businesses each year. "They are generalists who need to be turned into crop specialists," he said.

"You can switch some of them over to it, but they need exposing to fresh produce before they know about it. We are being told there is always a shortage of technical staff. It's fast-moving and offers interesting technical challenges. Many students say, 'I wouldn't go back to wheat' - which you can grow by numbers."

But he added: "The challenge for fresh produce is that so much of production is March to October, and for a lot of that time students are doing exams or on holiday."

The Shropshire university also runs a Masters course in entomology with a strong fresh produce element, "and we have just opened up a trials glasshouse", he added.

Students voted Harper Adams "University of the Year" in Whatuni.com's Student Choice Awards 2016, announced in April. 

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