Programme aims to provide world-class horticultural research training

Work will tackle scientific challenges for agri-business.

NIAB EMR: top-level research expertise and facilities provided for six-year fruit-crop studentship programme - image: HW
NIAB EMR: top-level research expertise and facilities provided for six-year fruit-crop studentship programme - image: HW

An industry-led consortium fronted by Berry Gardens Growers with science co-ordinated by NIAB EMR has secured a £1.9m Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council collaborative training partnership (CTP) award to fund a six-year PhD studentship programme for fruit-crop research.

Based at Kent's NIAB EMR, formerly East Malling Research, the programme will run from October 2017 to September 2023. It will consist of 16 studentships in core research areas intended to align with industry needs including plant breeding, plant pathology, entomology, soil science, plant physiology and crop agronomy, each integrated into the production horticulture industry.

The industry partners forming the consortium span the supply chain, from primary production and marketing (Berry Gardens Growers, Worldwide Fruit, M&W Mack, Univeg UK, the National Association of Cider Makers) to retail (Marks & Spencer), with knowledge exchange provided by AHDB Horticulture. NIAB EMR will partner with the universities of Cambridge, Nottingham and Reading to provide the students with top-level research expertise and facilities.

Berry Gardens research director Richard Harnden, the strategic lead for the CTP fruit-crop research programme, said: "This pioneering partnership between businesses, research providers and the AHDB will provide a world-class horticultural and bioscience UK research training programme to address the scientific challenges faced by agri-businesses, from crop production, food quality and supply through to consumer preference and reducing waste in the supply chain."

Managing director Nicholas Marston told Horticulture Week: "The objective is a cohort of experts who can support the industry going forward. There is a lot to be done to build up knowledge and capacity. There are very good research projects going on, many of which we are involved in, but they are limited in number compared with the rest of the world. As a grower group it's critical we take a long-term view."

CTP science co-ordinator and NIAB EMR research leader Dr Nicola Harrison said: "The vision of the programme is to produce innovative and exceptional postgraduate research that will engage and train the next generation of scientists for UK horticulture, and ensure translation of cutting-edge research into the wider industry."

The award is part of a £19m Government funding package to support 10 programmes of what it calls "world-class industry-led collaborative doctoral training", so boosting the UK's research base and building capability in its workforce.

Secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy Greg Clark said: "Furthering collaboration between Government, academia and industry is a key part of the industrial strategy we're developing. CTPs will boost the UK's world-leading reputation for research and science while increasing the talent and expertise of our workforce in the UK and providing new opportunities for the science leaders of tomorrow."

A second award, led by retailer Waitrose in partnership with the universities of Lancaster, Warwick and Reading as well as Rothamsted Research, will look more generally at food security. The partnership will fund 15 four-year studentships on themes of sustainable crop production, sustainable soil and water use and biodiversity and ecosystem services in agriculture.

Waitrose technical manager in agronomy Alan Wilson said: "This is a really exciting development and supports our collaborative approach led by the Waitrose Agronomy Group, involving academic engagement, worldwide farm assessment and a postgraduate professional training programme. There is a clear need to provide new thinking to address the challenges involved in delivering a more secure and sustainable food system." The other awards are in the fields of food manufacture, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology.

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