HRI Kirton's future to be decided

The future of a prestigious horticultural research centre is hanging in the balance following the launch of a two-week consultation to determine its fate.

The University of Warwick is expected to announce its decision on the future of the Warwick Horticulture Research International (HRI) Kirton Research Centre in Lincolnshire on Monday (28 July) in the form of an official statement that will be sent to staff.

University chiefs launched the consultation earlier this month because the centre has been losing money for a number of years.

The evaluation is part of a wider and ongoing review of the cash-strapped university's resources and departments.

HRI marketing and communications officer Ruth Ashfield said: "Kirton is under review and we are due to announce something on 28 July. It's not been making money but every department in the university is always under review and we get reviews on an annual basis. So this is part and parcel of that."

Warwick HRI, like many other horticultural research centres in the country such as East Malling Research in Kent, is beginning to feel the pinch of Defra's decline in funding to the research industry.

Over the next decade - starting from the end of this year - Defra will be winding down its funding to Warwick HRI.

Grower understands that the closure of the centre is likely to result in some redundancies - although how soon staff members would lose their jobs will depend on their individual contracts.

Some of the staff are employed under old civil service conditions, while others are under university conditions and they are represented by several different unions.

One staff member, who did not want to be named, said of the change: "It's worrying that this is happening at a time when there's a food crisis and a decline in home-grown production."

A large number of research projects are based at the Kirton site, which boasts facilities including: 46ha of grade-one silt land; 4ha of accredited organic land; glasshouses for young plant production and protected crops; Spanish, polythene and mesh tunnels for specialist crop production; and temperature storage facilites.

Research currently taking place at the site includes Dr Roy Kennedy's development of predictive models for crops, pest and diseases 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.

Collier told Grower that work on the LINK project - and most likely on other LINK projects - is set to continue elsewhere if Kirton closes.

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