Dixon on ... The closure of research facilities

"For sale" boards at Kirton Research Centre mark the end of half a century of effective publicly funded knowledge transfer.

Horticulture once had a string of experimental horticulture stations in the centres of production. Kirton served the Boston Corridor, responsible for most of the nation's field vegetables and Lincolnshire's flower bulbs. Other centres were equally pivotal. Efford, for example, was the powerhouse for nursery-stock growers.

This system was part of government contracts with horticulture. Horticulture got no subsidies but had an effective means of translating basic research into practical technology and educated staff to use it. Of course, it is not the Government that has shut Kirton. That task has gone to the University of Warwick in the same way that Imperial College is shutting Wye College.

Irrespective of these niceties of closure by agency, the result is the same. Steadily, Britain is dismantling its capabilities for providing practical science, technology and education supporting horticulture. No industry survives long without this aid, which ultimately only governments can provide. Ironically, this process is reaching a finale just as horticulture's products are appreciated as of prime value in sustaining physical and mental health.

What's gone wrong? Essentially two failures are apparent. Firstly, the British public is conditioned into thinking that importing foodstuffs, in the widest sense, is best. Secondly, using high-grade science and technology in support of crop production is wrong.

These failures were demonstrated in popular press reports of Thanet Earth coming on stream. Foodies were advocating bitter, open-pollinated gherkins imported from the Aegean against a succulent new-season Kentish crop. Thanet Earth is a huge Kentish horticultural success, comparable to Cornwall's Eden. A decade ago, Eden's underpinning science and technology was home-grown. Thanet Earth's is Continental, so no connection at all with shutting neighbouring Wye College, I suppose?


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