Dixon On ... Taking steps to boost horticulture's image

Politically, horticulture's image has lacked punch and impact. Yes, Parliament's British fruit industry group and the gardening and horticulture groups led by Laura Sandys and Brian Donohue ably raise the flag. But they compete against a huge number of sexier groups. Outsiders' views of horticulture are coloured by erroneous images of poor education and low skills. Less than supportive views being aired from high places result.

Just possibly, improved images might be emerging. Cabinet minister Oliver Letwin lauded horticulture and gardening in the Western Gazette. In "horticultural musings", he recognised that "one really can measure a civilisation by its gardens". Horticulture's environmental and social image has, it seems, gained a powerful champion.

Astute bidding into the £160m Agri-Tech fund will boost production horticulture's image. This funding aims at "taking innovative products such as cancer-fighting broccoli from the field to the shopping aisle". Images raised by the Norwich Science Campus broccoli programme have greatly impressed Department for Business, Innovation & Skills minister David Willetts.

The supermarkets have already latched onto opportunities for increased business visibility. Sainsbury's brand director Judith Batchelar stoutly advocates Agri-Tech.

Encouraging fruit and vegetable consumption provides substantial medical and social benefits. Improving diets is an effective means of cutting the diseases of affluence and coping with escalating NHS costs. Serving infants with horticulturally-rich free school lunches could establish lifelong healthy-eating habits.

All horticultural sectors can benefit from this improved political and social image. Stimulated consumer demand must be satisfied by additional home-grown supplies. The public is currently interested in local, fresh, healthy and safe fruit and vegetables. Mobilising political support for "Love Your British Greens" is the next big image-enhancing step.

Professor Geoffrey Dixon is managing director of GreenGene international.


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Professor Geoffrey Dixon

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

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