Interview: David Hutchinson, nursery consultant

David Hutchinson seems to represent a classic conflict in horticulture; should growers guard their secrets for the perfect plant like they guard the family silver?

David Hutchinson, nursery consultant. Image: HW
David Hutchinson, nursery consultant. Image: HW

Or should they take note of the Dutch, who pool their resources, sharing knowledge and tools.

As a consultant, whose living depends on a cache of specialist knowledge, you might expect the industry stalwart to have all the camaraderie of the KGB when it comes to dispensing advice for free.

But Hutchinson is a staunch advocate of the International Plant Propagators Society (IPPS) and no one could take their motto more seriously.

"Seek and share" has been the guiding principle in his career and it has served him well, for the society has bestowed on him their highest merit; the International Award of Honour for the GB&I region.

"Seek and share has always been part of my life," Hutchinson explains. "In my heart, seeking and sharing has been a big factor. I don't believe that anyone has got any particular knowledge that they can't share. People think having secrets can have good sides but really you progress faster by seeking and sharing."

And thanks to his unrivalled involvement with the world's plant propagators, hundreds of people have benefited from this benevolent attitude.

Hutchinson has recruited innumerable members to the IPPS and has held just about every position the society has to offer. So it can come as little surprise that the group decided it was time to recognise the work of one of its most dedicated advocates.

But Hutchinson says he was still bowled over by the gesture."I felt a bit overwhelmed to receive it because I was only doing services I was paid to do. I have nominated people for the award many times but I never thought that I would receive it."

But the hard work of seeking and sharing does not end with accolades.

Indeed, the former ADAS consultant says that there is an ever-growing need for collaboration."The world is changing so fast now you need to see the wider picture if you are going to try and do what I do," he notes.

But how do you offset the desire to share knowledge with the need to run a profitable private consultancy? "It has always given colleagues a lot of pain but I have never found that really, if anything it helps your business."

This is evident in his advocacy of knowledge transfer across national boundaries. ADAS proved reluctant to venture overseas but Hutchinson, who has links to growers across the world, has found his foreign ventures to be very profitable.

"Techniques are changing quickly now and we have to look at what they are doing abroad and adapt techniques for growers here. This is what gives me my new work. I felt when I was with ADAS that I was never allowed to go abroad so I ended up doing it on my own."

And this supranational sharing spree should be applied to the issue of research, Hutchinson argues.

There will always be those who are reluctant to see British levy payments funding foreign research but without wider collaboration there is too high a risk of stagnation and replication, he explains.

"The funding has to come from growers across different countries. There needs to be more joined-up thinking so that you don't duplicate. I see signs that it is starting to happen and that is a good thing. But growers should ultimately decide their own destiny with regard to research."

Despite this cosmopolitan attitude to research, Hutchinson says he doesn't see much of a role for the EU here and maintains that national horticultural bodies should co-operate on their own.

Though whatever the trade bodies may do, Hutchinson has seen first hand the inspiration that cross-border cooperation can bring.

Having started horticultural life at a chemical company, he was an unlikely candidate to go organic. But an IPPS meeting in Australia opened his eyes to the environmental movement.

"I saw how horticulture was impacting the environment and realised that as growers we needed to take back the responsibility for the environment. A nursery in southern California called the Tree of Life changed my perspective a bit as well. The nursery had employed staff to produce native plants, which was quite a step forward at the time. They were producing their own mycorrhiza and I thought it was fascinating how simple it was."

And this move to greener practices is where he sees the industry heading. The recession and the grow-your-own boom has presented opportunities, he says, and it is up to growers and retailers to promote it and educate the public as much as possible.

"The pressing thing at the moment is to invest in sustainable practices, which I know is difficult with the economy as it is. But if we do it right, increasing sustainability could be the lasting legacy of this recession."

 

CV

1960-65 ICI Plant Protection work station
1966 Horticultural assistant to the National Agricultural Advisory Service (NAAS)
1969 NAAS adviser
1986 IPPS GB&I committee member
1986 Helps form British Heather Growers Association
1992 Organises first IPPS conference in mainland Europe at Angers, France
2002 IPPS international president
2008 Leaves ADAS to become a private consultant


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