Dixon on...The vagaries of the weather strike again

Hot summers are good for horticulture, or are they?

Garden centre sales rose 4.8 per cent in the July heat, says the press. Quite probably that's eager buying of barbecue kits and sun shades. Observations at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show suggested that few plants changed hands. Huge numbers of very hot people milled about looking but not seemingly buying. Nonetheless, any added cash flow is welcome after Easter's disaster when cold weather left garden centres full of unsold plants and the supply chain of nurserymen with piles of over-mature and unmovable stock.

Elsewhere life is equally perverse. Early-season cold, compacted soil was unfit for drilling or transplanting vegetables. The resultant late, slow-growing crops were then met with intense heat. Copious irrigation overcame problems for the shallow-rooted leafy crops, but the high temperatures wrecked crop scheduling, especially for peas and beans. Some good-quality top and soft fruit swelled again thanks to irrigation. Parks and other amenity departments probably saved money as lawns and bedding dried out. Conversely, growth by deep-rooted trees which found water is phenomenal. Now rain is back bringing lots of pests and diseases. Welcome to the world of horticulture!

Certainly, in Great Britain rarely are two seasons the same. Are these disparities increasing? In 2012 we had the wettest summer and now we've experienced one of the hottest. Analyses of the changing climate suggest that differences year-by-year are increasing. That is why the knowledge and skill of well educated horticulturists is ever more needed. Confronting the vagaries of shifting weather patterns also demands research and development relevant to British horticulture. The government's new AgriTech scheme brings much needed finance for innovative R&D and business development. Horticulture must ensure that it gains a good share of that money.

Professor Geoffrey Dixon is managing director of GreenGene international

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