Dixon on ... hanging together

News that Reading University and East Malling Research are collaborating is very welcome. Both are long-standing and robust supporters of British fruit growers. Add in Stockbridge Technology Centre and the Processors & Growers Research Organisation at Peterborough and a patchwork of R&D capacity starts emerging.

Obviously, this cannot replace the in-depth capabilities of Warwick HRI. Its "applied centre" concept is valuable. But big question marks hang over its long-term viability and the extent of commitment by Warwick's senior staff. Too many good researchers have packed up their test tubes and moved on.

Over the past decade, Britain has gone from producing coherent R&D respected worldwide to a curate's egg status - "good in parts but failing overall". Ascribing blame is a historian's job. The big lesson is do not trust "here today and gone tomorrow" politicians or ill-informed civil servants. Survivors in this saga are those with independent means. For example, East Malling survives, possibly against the odds, because of its trust.

Lord John Taylor made it very plain at last autumn's National Horticultural Forum seminar that "there is no (public) money". Horticulture is on its own. Organisations not previously regarded as part of the R&D picture must gain focus. Direct funding, networking for funding sources and active involvement are all useful. The Worshipful Company of Fruiterers and Vegetable Consultants Association have toiled quietly for years in their respective fields. Their work is needed now as never before.

The downside is that searching for small units of funding is time-consuming and administratively very expensive. Neither does it provide the coherent R&D strategic framework needed by an industry with a farm gate value in excess of £2bn. Supermarkets are major beneficiaries of horticulture. They must therefore accept responsibilities towards their suppliers. If they will not agree voluntarily, then a bank-style levy is needed.

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