Sustained R&D funding plan developed for Government

A research agenda calling for sustained R&D funding to meet 10 specific industry challenges has been developed by the National Horticultural Forum (NHF).

The report has already been presented to Defra's fruit and vegetables task force. National Horticultural Forum (NHF) executive Simon Bright said it would hit ministers' desks immediately following next month's general election.

The challenges identified by the NHF include crop protection, genetic improvement, peat substitution, labour cost and availability and soil management. It also identifies that research is needed into the health benefits of edible and ornamental horticulture, waste streams and new integrated cropping systems.

Bright explained: "There has been a lot of political focus on food security and that is terrific, but we want to make sure we don't miss out on other major benefits of horticulture. This isn't a wonderful time to get an answer out of anyone but we want to make sure this agenda is on people's desks when they start paying attention in May."

He added: "This political focus on food security isn't going to go away, whatever the colour of the next Government."

The NHF, which has members including the Horticultural Development Company (HDC), HTA, NFU, Warwick HRI and East Malling Research, has been working on the document since July 2009.

Although it is not calling for a specific amount of investment, the agenda sets out the essential priorities required in R&D over the coming years.

NFU chief horticultural adviser Phil Hudson said: "We wanted to boil down to the key issues on R&D. We were concerned that there was a need to specifically identify what exactly those key research needs were for the industry."

Defra's task force met on Monday (12 April) and will be producing an interim report next month. Hudson said he expected it to feature parts of the NHF research agenda.

HTA director-general David Gwyther added that the "ground has shifted hugely over the past 18 months" in terms of political parties recognising the contribution of the horticulture industry.

"All 10 challenges in the report are very big points and I think it can make a difference," he said.

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