Professional bodies define direction

Following last year's decision not to merge, Matthew Appleby looks at plans for the IoH and SCI.

The Institute of Horticulture (IoH) and the Society of Chemical Industry's (SCI's) Horticulture Group have made headlines over the past year.

Both groups have made progress on what they want to do to promote horticulture, following months of uncertainty after a contentious vote by IoH members against a merger with the bigger SCI last year (HW, 13 December).

The IoH, under president-elect Heather Barrett-Mold, has set up the Way Forward working group to negotiate partnerships across the industry. She has met with many industry bodies in an attempt to make partnerships that will protect the institute.

The SCI has already set up a conference about knowledge transfer on 21 November under interim Horticulture Group chairman Mike Hall.

The IoH is some way from instigating new projects. It is turning over just £80,000 a year and has yet to recover after taking a financial hit from having to stage two merger meetings last year. Outgoing president Tony Girard said "activity of some of the standing committees has been at a standstill". But it is looking at a potentially lucrative 2009 conference.

Meanwhile, some members are reviewing what the IoH offers them. Benefits include strong regional groups (despite the resignation of the south-west and much of the eastern committees), a wealth of horticulture experience, which could be used by the industry, and letters after your name.

The Young Horticulturist of the Year (YHoY) competition is its most high-profile event. Founder Frank Hardy has dispelled rumours that the Shropshire Horticulture Society owns the rights to the event, saying: "I gave it to the IoH."

Guy Moreton, owner of horticulture recruitment agency MorePeople and former IoH eastern branch vice-chairman - before he resigned due to anger at the merger debacle earlier this year - argued the YHoY needs to become a more scientific competition along the lines of the Nuffield Scholarship.

Moreton continues to sponsor YHoY but will also back the SCI's event in November. He said: "I can't afford to have allegiances. Because we are a land-based business it's right to have an affiliation with the IoH and SCI.

"I'm very supportive of Heather Barrett-Mold. But I'd love it if people put their IoH membership on their CVs. Very few do and my clients never ask for it. I'm really keen for a body to fight for horticulture as a career but at the moment only the HTA does that."

The institute hopes to cut its administration costs by finding a home with the HTA at Reading. Barrett-Mold said the HTA offices fit the bill as a base because they will be cheaper than London and because the HTA is a like-minded "broadchurch" body. Internally, the IoH is trying to restructure. It also wants to change bylaws to enable it to have a patron.

At an IoH council meeting on 15 July Barrett-Mold will present a business plan to members. She is keen that members who join the SCI keep their IoH membership. Barrett-Mold said: "We don't have to be exclusive of each other. We can find a way of working together. If we achieve that the demand will be great enough to accommodate both - that's my vision."

Over at the SCI, interim Horticulture Group chairman Hall said: "We're trying not to walk the same path as the IoH. We can be separate and complementary. We believe our conference on knowledge transfer will be the first time this subject has been aimed specifically at horticulture. Our primary market is those who own and manage horticulture businesses - food and ornamental producers on a global scale."

Compared to the 1,600-strong IoH, SCI's group is still tiny. Hall said the impression that a large number of the IoH, and therefore the SCI's, members are retired horticulturists and academics could be outdated if the SCI group progresses as he wants it to. "But we're not excluding others."

Hall said the SCI's financial backing - with its 40-plus staff and 140 years of existence - means he only has to come up with ideas and the SCI does the rest. Meanwhile, the IoH is relying largely on volunteer help. But Hall added: "It's not a race. We want to add value. On what has been seen by some to be a rift, we'll work together in the future."

IoH Way Forward group member Steve Dowbiggin said: "I don't see there being competition between the SCI and IoH. The IoH is pitching itself for the future as wider and more inclusive, and will be representative of the full breadth and depth of horticulture. Therefore, I'm sure that once the new IoH is up and running they'll welcome talks with the SCI to see how the groups can work in unison and which bits of the overall picture we can cooperate on.

"The SCI is not a competitor with the IoH. They must be different animals. To try and create the IoH within the SCI, which I'm sure they're not trying to do, would be a cynical rebuff to views expressed by the IoH members at the December 2007 SGM. But I'm sure that's not what they're trying to do."

The key move for the IoH seems to be an affiliation with the RHS and IoH. Dowbiggin said this could give a membership base of 50,000, adding "the sky's the limit".

RHS and HTA members could affiliate for free and make use of academic papers from the IoH, then upgrade membership if they wanted to; while the HTA could provide a home.

RHS director of science and learning Simon Thornton-Wood "is keen to work with the IoH in particular over the opportunity to review options for qualifications", according to the IoH.

"The membership criteria are of interest to RHS in terms of modular qualifications, MHort and the affiliate grade, which some RHS members will be very interested to take up."

EVENTS
Growing Success - Horticultural Business Perspectives
21 November at SCI London


SCI horticulture group roadshows
8 October Sparsholt College, 23 October; 6 November, University of
Reading. See www.soci.org.


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