Growers' and stakeholders' responses to the 2017-20 AHDB Horticulture strategy, Inspiring Success, show interest in spending on market development but also concern, which AHDB Horticulture sector director Steve Tones says is misplaced, that there could be research cuts.
Tones insists "categorically" that research spending will stay the same and that support for the industry, particularly in the worrying area of new pests and diseases, will continue at the same level as previously. He is writing to 44 respondents, including the NFU, RHS, HTA, British Growers Association and individual growers, as well as producing a wider response next month.
He will explain that the strategy is not designed to detail individual projects but rather is intended to give an overall plan for AHDB Horticulture's work. He will also explain that although the split of research and knowledge exchange looks different in the document "there is no change in investment in research projects". Market development in new areas such as "meaningful health messages" around salad crops is possible, he adds.
Possible market development
After an ornamentals round table meeting last week, Tones said "the ornamentals sector was very, very enthusiastic" about the possibility of market development work, which he points out was prompted by discussion around the "huge amount of imported produce" coming into the UK and how to change that. He says he was "encouraged to think the HTA and RHS want us involved".
Ideas about thought leadership work is another new area where AHDB Horticulture received consultation feedback. Tones says any movement on changes would be a "slow burn". There remain contingency reserves for pest and disease emergency work and the ornamentals industry is "looking to us to maintain technical research projects" and to work on generating Extensions of Authorisations for Minor Uses (EAMUs), he adds.
Tones points out that AHDB Horticulture annual income is about £7.9m after pulling in some back levy, but turnover pressure on levy payers means that is unlikely to rise, as is the levy. AHDB Horticulture says extending the available range of plant-protection products, adding depth and breadth to the industry's expertise and knowledge, and tackling the rising cost of labour are "key priorities" for the strategy.
The organisation is aiming for a more joined-up approach, including larger thematic programmes on topics of cross-sector importance such as pesticide resistance, soil and water. Better leverage of levy funding will be sought through collaboration with other research funders such as the UK research councils and the new Agri-Tech innovation centres.
Strategic benchmarking of production and management systems will be used to help businesses get the most out of their workforce. Automation and robotics technologies of potential value to horticulture will be explored and showcased with the Agri-Tech Agri-EPI Centres and others.