Overlook research at your peril

It is one of the great ironies of life that the Westminster village discovered the need to address food security, backed up by learned report after learned report highlighting the need to boost UK production, just as Defra's support for applied horticultural research reached the lowest point of a lengthy and painful decline. And with the loss of the majority of the knowledge base of HRI Wellesbourne as one of the direct consequences of that decline.

The impact that that knowledge base together with other Horticulture Research International successors have had over the years is noted in the latest report from the National Horticultural Forum, which continues to argue for a coherent, properly funded and joined-up horticultural research pipeline (page 6). The study, which examines the uptake of research-led innovation by growers in the strawberry and brassica sectors, is a timely reminder of the huge contribution R&D has made to UK horticulture. In the case of strawberries it has helped production to more than double from the mid 1990s to 2008.

The pioneering work of Haygrove on tunnel structures has, of course, been absolutely key to that particular success, but innovations in other areas such as crop protection and genetics have been critical too. On their source, the report notes: "In both the strawberry and brassica cases, it is striking how many of the innovations in crop protection and genetics have involved the input of the institutions of Horticulture Research International and its predecessors and successors, whose funding came primarily from Defra and who have been subject to significant shrinkage and organisational change as this source of public funding declined."

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