Promote horticulture's health benefits and collaborate more, R&D forum told

Political buy-in to the health benefits of horticulture could help raise the profile of the sector in the long-term, but industry needs to break down barriers and co-operate to make its voice heard.

That was the view of speakers at the National Horticultural Forum's conference on Strategies for UK Horticultural Research and Development on 26 November.

City University professor of food policy Tim Lang explained: "There's a positive story for horticulture but the sector has been weak in presenting a powerful picture. Why is it being driven onto the back foot?"

Lang said a "new agenda" for R&D needed to be created. "Don't let whoever is the next Government get away with it," he urged.

The issues facing horticultural R&D were also tackled by consultant Brian Jamieson and Horticultural Development Company (HDC) chairman Neil Bragg.

Jamieson highlighted the growing deficit in near-market R&D, but urged the industry to work together and for R&D providers to be "pro-active and imaginative".

"It is no good looking back to the halcyon days," Jamieson warned. He explained that there needed to be a "paradigm shift" and R&D providers would need to change. A shift from being funded and dependant to earning revenue and acting entrepreneurially would need to happen. In addition, bodies would have to make partnerships and become more outward-looking.

"It is important that the sector - producers, HDC and R&D providers - raise their game in public and political dialogue," he added.

Bragg raised concerns about the lack of consultation over the future of Warwick HRI and added that the small pot of £5m levy funds HDC did have would not spread far.

"We are seriously encouraging collaboration," he explained. "We have got to get over the feeling that growers think their business is so precious they can't talk to anyone."

Chairing the event at the Society of Chemical Industry international headquarters in London was Committee for Science and Technology member Lord Selborne.

Panel members included Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board chief scientist Ian Crute, Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council director of innovation and skills Celia Caulcott, Defra shadow minister Lord Taylor of Holbeach and Defra strategy and evidence group director Michael Segal.

Stockbridge Technology Centre chief executive Graham Ward warned that "wishing for money" from the Government was a "complete no-no".

Lord Selborne commented: "We've identified enormous opportunities for partnership. I'm clear in my mind that if we as growers want to keep the research base on which we've been so dependant, we have to make sure that we have those partnerships in place."

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