Interview - Pete Bingham, International President, International Plant Propagators' Society

For heather grower Pete Bingham, a 30-year membership of the International Plant Propagators' Society (IPPS) has led to many innovative changes on his nursery and encouraged a Caractacus Potts-like interest in building his own labour-saving machines.

Pete Bingham, International President, International Plant Propagators' Society - photo: Pete Bingham
Pete Bingham, International President, International Plant Propagators' Society - photo: Pete Bingham

Now he is giving back to the society by taking on the organisation's international presidency this year, which means he will host the IPPS conference in Kilkenny in Ireland this September. The event will see delegates from the society's eight regions around the world attending to hear presentations on plant cultivation and production.

He is also going to help the society in its new incarnation - it is moving away from being associated only with propagation and has opened up to cover the whole of plant production. The IPPS is encouraging growers, retailers, staff at public and private gardens, plant breeders, scientists, academics and students to apply, as well as the traditional core of propagators.

"Over 30 years ago I attended my first area meeting and immediately felt like I fitted in," says Bingham. "I was impressed by the open and informal nature of the society. I recognised the potential for advancing my knowledge, and have been a member ever since."

Despite members traditionally working in commercial production, where sharing experiences might not be advisable for fear of aiding the competition, Bingham says the society prides itself on its openness - its motto is "seek and share" - which was epitomised by one of its founders, Jim Wells.

"Jim told me how he addressed the first group of growers by saying that each of them probably had a number of secrets that they brought to that meeting," says Bingham. "They had the option of going away with the same number of secrets, or sharing them with others, and leaving with much more knowledge. Everyone joined."

He adds: "That philosophy is just as valuable today as it was over 50 years ago. People working alone can never be as good as a team working together."

The society organises regional events including conferences, nursery visits, field trips and workshops, and publishes regular newsletters. Those who join have access to a database of members, providing an opportunity to exchange knowledge with others working in the fields of plant cultivation and production around the world.

But Bingham says the major benefit of joining is receiving "the famous black book", in which the proceedings of papers presented at all the regional conferences are compiled every year. As part of the society's development the "black book" is available in a searchable CD format and past conference papers are being formatted for internet availability.

Through these meetings and tours, Bingham says: "I have met so many interesting people. By comparing experiences with them, I have learnt a lot, avoided many costly mistakes and gained much more than ever I could have from just reading information."

He adds: "Several of the production techniques that we have developed at Kingfisher Nursery have been inspired by visits to other nurseries or originated from discussions I've had across meal tables, on coach trips or in the bar during IPPS events. My interest in gadgets is well known, so fellow members often share their ideas with me and, equally, my own daft ideas get passed on and refined elsewhere."

One of these "gadgets" is currently being worked on by Bingham and his engineer brother at the Kingfisher Nursery site in Spalding, Lincolnshire. He says that he has a "winter project" every year, and this year it is a prototype of a machine for trimming plugs. The nursery already has a functioning pot-cleaning machine, which Bingham and his brother built a few years ago. When asked if it would be easier to buy the machinery, he says: "If there is a machine ready for purpose we'll buy it, but if there isn't we make our own."

Another machine used on the site is a Gantry mower, which Bingham first saw on an IPPS tour to the western US. Within a fortnight of returning home he was developing his own model. Unsurprisingly, he is full of enthusiasm for the society's overseas tours, which he says "are a great way to see how growers, who are facing similar challenges worldwide, find different solutions". He was particularly struck by "quality in Japan, mechanisation in Scandinavia and large-scale production in the US".

Bingham is now looking forward to the conference in September. As well as the three-day conference in Kilkenny, the event will also include the International Board meeting and visits to sites around Kilkenny and Belfast.

"Great Britain and Ireland play host to the International Board every eight years, so this is a very special occasion and I feel very privileged to be involved," Bingham says. "I would personally like to invite anyone who is thinking of becoming a member to attend the 2009 conference and share with us the experience of mixing with leading plant professionals from all around the world."

CV

1968-71: Diploma in horticulture at Writtle College

1971-75: Works in various nurseries in the UK and Holland, including Geest Industries and Darthuizer

1975: Sets up Kingfisher Nursery

2002-03: Becomes president of the IPPS Great Britain and Ireland (GB&I) region

2003-09: Various IPPS GB&I committee member roles, including treasurer and international director

2009: Becomes international president of IPPS.


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