£8k prize money for sustainable ideas for protected cropping

The GCRI Trust has announced a new study competition in the formats of either a written document or a video presentation on the theme of ‘Improving sustainability in tomorrow’s protected horticulture’.

GCRI Trust visit the new GreenTech Hub for Advanced Horticulture at NIAB. Left – Right: Allen Langton, Nikki Harrison, Chris Need, Colin Frampton, David Fox
GCRI Trust visit the new GreenTech Hub for Advanced Horticulture at NIAB. Left – Right: Allen Langton, Nikki Harrison, Chris Need, Colin Frampton, David Fox

With entries accepted as either a written desk study, or new for this year, as a video presentation, £2,000 will be awarded to the winner of each of the two categories. Two runners up in each format will each be awarded a prize of £1,000.

The judges are seeking well-written or presented desk studies, or literature reviews, that analyse new technologies, science or novel practices to help the UK protected crops sector lower their greenhouse gas emissions and reduce their water, waste and materials usage.

With alarming increases in energy costs, coupled to the ever-changing labour market, growers of protected edibles and ornamentals need to find a path to a new sustainability model for their industry.

Last year, the prize was awarded to Janet Mobbs from Lineside Nursery in Warwickshire, with a proposal for an Horticultural Energy Investment Fund. Her study proposed providing growers with the necessary capital expenditure for modern energy sources, in return for an affordable rental charge and repayment of the installation cost when the property is sold.

Colin Frampton, chair of the GCRI Trust, said: “The winning entry last year identified a possible solution towards net zero carbon emissions in protected horticulture. We are looking forward to more innovative ideas to help us find sustainable solutions to the labour and energy issues facing growers this year."

Dr Nikki Harrison, GCRI Trustee and Programme Director for Growing Kent & Medway, said: “Growing Kent & Medway is supporting the promotion of best practice across horticultural businesses, especially through the integration of new measures that help lower carbon emissions and drive sustainability across the food production sector.

“By working together with the GCRI Trust, we are able to support this exciting competition to bring the latest innovations and ideas to business sustainability and horticultural production.

The GCRI Trust was set up to promote scientific research and education for the environmentally sustainable cultivation of horticultural crops growing in glasshouses, polytunnels and other structures. It has traditionally funded grants to allow scientists and growers to travel overseas to learn about the latest research findings to benefit UK horticulture. With a temporary halt to overseas travel in 2020 as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, the Trust introduced the desk study competition.

The 2022 GCRI Desk Study Competition opens on the 9 May 2022 and the closing date for entries is 31 July 2022. Full details and how to enter can be found at  gcritrust.org/competition/

Meanwhile, a new pilot project in Kent is offering individuals an exciting opportunity to fast track into the fresh produce industry. MDS, the  training provider for the food and horticultural supply chain, is teaming up with ‘Growing Kent & Medway’ to create the UK’s first regional apprenticeship hub for the fresh produce sector. The ‘Growing Talent’ pilot will work with fresh produce businesses in the region to offer non-graduates and career changers a dynamic two-year paid traineeship, regardless of prior knowledge and skills.

Business development manager at MDS, Kirsty Barden, said it’s about creating long-term, lasting benefit for both young people in Kent, through fulfilling jobs and providing excellent training opportunities, and for fresh produce businesses, by developing a local, skilled workforce:

“The route into fresh produce is not always obvious, or those considering it at a career crossroads may be reluctant to start over and spend time working their way up. It is a vibrant industry full of opportunity, and with Growing Talent, we are offering a fully supported first step on the ladder, whatever your knowledge or skills. At the heart of what we do at MDS is bringing out the best in people, more than they often know they are capable of. Core to the pilot will be the mentoring and additional training we give alongside work secondments, building confidence professionally and personally which develops not only the trainee but the businesses they work for.”

Dr Nikki Harrison, director for the Growing Kent and Medway programme, which is funded by UKRI and led by NIAB at East Malling, is calling on fresh produce businesses in the region to come together to benefit from the Kent hub: “Joining the Growing Talent apprenticeship hub is a fantastic opportunity for fresh produce businesses to tackle recruitment challenges and develop a skilled workforce with strong roots in the area. We are leveraging the experience and training of MDS to recruit local people, put them through the development programme and provide them with the experience and skill sets required by the industry. By doing their secondments within the hub, trainees can gain valuable experience without having to relocate and get support to find permanent roles within businesses in their local area.”

MDS trainee India Dodge-Forder said: “I didn’t know much about it before I started, but working in fresh produce is varied, fast-paced and can be very rewarding. Training with MDS, the mentoring and the support you get from the group of the other trainees, is what makes all the difference. I have learned so much very quickly and built up my confidence. There’s also so much more to fresh produce than production - there’s project management, science and research, engineering, data analysis and marketing if you want to keep pushing up the ladder.”

The training programme may also be available for existing staff in fresh produce businesses, using the apprenticeship levy.

MDS and Growing Kent & Medway is encouraging those interested to come along to one of the events this month to find out more. The key criterium is that they must be based in Kent.


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