Wellesbourne: Defra must back real talks

Many will ask how it is that the environment secretary - who has shown a very welcome, albeit "11th-hour", interest in increasing UK fruit and vegetable production - could fail to make the link between that and the need to protect the long-term future of applied horticultural R&D, which is moving closer to the brink.

The answer is that fruit and vegetable task forces don't cost much, but with an election due can help win precious votes from a sector more used to being ignored by its designated department, while satisfying growing clamour for action on food security. On the other hand, acting to protect the UK's horticultural R&D base for both edible and ornamental crops requires real commitment.

Nevertheless, nothing short of the latter is what we must continue to demand from all political parties in the wake of this week's revelation from the University of Warwick that it is to press ahead with the absorption of HRI Wellesbourne into a new life sciences department, with applied horticultural R&D its most likely sacrificial lamb.

The announcement of a "consultation" giving the industry just three days to respond is shameful. It shows a complete disregard by the University of Warwick for the support it has received for many years from hard-earned grower funds for this once prime facility gifted by Defra at a knock-down price in 2004. But then, the university has not exactly been forthcoming with the industry for some time over its intentions.

But the university is not to blame for this mess. The prime cause is years of cuts in government funding for horticultural R&D, exacerbated in recent years by Defra's decision to put production horticulture on a backburner.

What must happen now? First, Defra must join industry demands for a robust six-week consultation process on Warwick's proposals. Then it must sit down with industry to start work on the bigger task ahead; namely to thrash out a strategy for applied horticultural R&D that takes the industry beyond last month's hard-won but "one-off" Technology Strategy Board fund for crop protection and towards delivery of a thriving, competitive UK production horticulture industry for both edible and ornamental crops.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Sign up now
Already registered?
Sign in

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus

Read These Next

What does the Butters buyout mean for horticulture?

What does the Butters buyout mean for horticulture?

Mass market flowers and plants supplier and grower the Butters Group has sold out to cut flowers and fresh-produce importer Flamingo to create a near quarter-of-a-billion-pound turnover business.

What challenges and opportunities lie in store for tomato growers?

What challenges and opportunities lie in store for tomato growers?

The British Tomato Growers Association (TGA) conference heard a range of perspectives on what changes lie in store for the sector and how to anticipate them.

Buoyant demand for UK apples but frost and labour remain concerns

Buoyant demand for UK apples but frost and labour remain concerns

As the British apple season begins, English Apples & Pears (EAP) is warning that growers will feel the effects of both a late frost in spring and also constrained labour supply.

Follow us on:
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Google +
Horticulture Jobs
More Horticulture Jobs

Pest & Disease Tracker bulletin 

The latest pest and disease alerts, how to treat them, plus EAMU updates, sent direct to your inbox.

Sign up here

Professor Geoffrey Dixon

GreenGene International chair Geoff Dixon on the business of fresh produce production

Read Professor Geoffrey Dixon