Launch of £13m R&D fund sparks calls for growers to collaborate on making bids

Growers must work together on developing bids for the Government's £13m collaborative R&D fund to ensure best application of the "finite" resource, according to industry experts.

They have said it is critical for growers to focus on coordinating their bids for the New Approaches to Crop Protection competition fund, which is being run by non-governmental department the Technology Strategy Board (TSB).

The fund, launched by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills this week, is a response to the crop-protection crisis sparked by EU legislation passed in January.

It follows lobbying activity from the industry -- including HW's Save our Science campaign -- for government-backed R&D.

HTA director-general David Gwyther told HW that "consistent lobbying" was now paying off and the body would work with the Horticultural Development Company and its own technical committee on bids.

"That way, we will ensure that our member businesses are working proactively together, that we avoid any wasteful duplication of effort and that the new initiatives are slotted in against existing prospects," he explained.

"Indeed, one of the biggest potential benefits of these initiatives is the encouragement of growers and researchers to work much more closely together."

The competition was launched at the TSB Innovate '09 exhibition, held on 13 October, and coincided with the creation of an "Innovation Platform" in Sustainable Agriculture and Food. The latter will spend around £75m over the next five years to stimulate new technologies that increase food production and reduce its impact on the environment. The £13m competition is part of that initiative and includes £7m from TSB, £3.5m from Defra and £2.5m from the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council.

NFU plant health adviser Paul Chambers said the "ideal situation" would be for one body to coordinate all the bids.

"It will be very difficult for small organisations, so it will be better to coordinate the work," he said. "There is a finite amount of money, although it is a welcome injection, so we don't want to waste it by replicating resources."

According to TSB director of innovation programmes David Bott, a team of four or five independent assessors from research bodies will analyse bids.

"We have had to show [the Government] that this is a sensible use of our money," Bott said. "The point is that it is all about making money -- there needs to be a commercial payback."

Crop Protection Association chief executive Dominic Dyer added: "We need to look at how best it can be used. If the money is being broken down into a number of separate projects, there is a limit to what can be achieved."

The competition opens on 18 January 2010 and the deadline for full applications is 29 April.


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