What does horticulture contribute to our economy? Regrettably, we fail the first acid test - no export trade. Claiming big benefits from import substitution instead does not cut much ice. The supermarkets are more than happy with their mantra of "buying where it is cheapest".
The Government's localism and community sustainability agendas give some support for arguments favouring home production. But causing negative effects on the nation's balance of payments are powerful large black marks.
Socially and environmentally, horticulture is a major force supporting health, well-being and cohesion. But quantifying these benefits is difficult and they are long-term in their effectiveness.
There are shorter-term benefits where horticulture supports the tourist trade. Excellence in parks, gardens, shows and street planting encourages visitors. Unfortunately, the accolades so often end up with planners and managers. Recognition of the knowledge and skills required in manipulating plant growth and reproduction is in short supply. Again, horticulture emerges on the wrong side of the balance sheet.
Horticulture has also failed itself. The imperatives of gaining respect and recognition for professionalism, expertise and scholarship have been lost. In horticulture, the levellers have won out. Being content with dumbing-down is the order of the day. Focus has all too frequently concentrated on the short-term bums-on-seats mentality.
We need a thorough-going analysis of "horticultural services" that overtly and covertly serve the economy. Quantifying the monetary benefits of production, environmental and social horticulture would give us powerful political tools. They might even bring more of the brightest and best brains into our discipline.
Professor Geoffrey Dixon is managing director of GreneGene international.