Industry fears public spending cuts may prevent Taylor Review recommendations

Industry chiefs have welcomed a supportive report by the Conservative Party into research and development but fear that the coalition Government's funding squeeze may yet overturn its pledges.

The Taylor Review, commissioned when the party was in opposition, takes a hard look at future challenges, research and private-sector investment.

In the report, published last month, Lord Taylor wrote that the current state of research and development reflected a 20-year legacy of "steady decline" in public spending. "There is therefore considerable urgency in taking action," he noted, warning of a big need for breakthroughs in genetics and crop management.

National Horticulture Forum chairman Andrew Colquhoun said the report was helpful and identified key areas, such as the need to reinvigorate applied research.

He added that the review did not say much about ornamentals and the need to strengthen research in a sector that was very economically important.

"We need more engagement from the big retailers, which get a bit of a free ride in terms of all the money put in by Government and industry," said Colquhoun.

"Supermarkets must recognise that if we are to increase production of food and ornamentals they have an interest in helping growers and nurseries increase production. Supermarkets need closer engagement with R&D. We also need to make sure we are developing the right kind of R&D skills throughout the pipeline - not just scientists but people who help their research."

Colquhoun was puzzled when a report written in opposition was referred to Defra in July but published only last month with a promise to review its comments.

"It is officially being addressed by Defra, but we are now in a financial situation that makes things hard to fund, especially demonstration farms."

Horticultural Development Company chairman Neil Bragg said: "The report is good. It highlights the crying need for applied research to be demonstrated in the field. Lord Taylor thinks demonstration farms and nurseries can be used to cascade information to other people.

"But there's no way we will get Government money coming directly into this. It's about us using what we have intelligently to make good use of the work. If we can entice major retailers into stronger partnerships, it will help."

NFU director-general Kevin Roberts said the coalition had tough choices on spending, but urged it to implement the Taylor Review.

"We will press the Government to deliver on the review's recommendations - remove barriers to investment, encourage private-sector investment and promote levy boards."

Lord Taylor said: "The main message is that the gap in our science is not at the fundamental level with knowledge-transfer - getting research to the growers. Industry must continue to argue the case."

- Set up a national network of crop specialists.
- Promote the role of levy groups as knowledge hubs.
- Encourage online tools to promote best practice.
- Encourage private-sector investment in research.
- Develop demonstration farms to test new technologies.

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