Three cheers for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Science & Technology

The all-party group holds its second AGM tomorrow.

The questions its politician members are asking - "Is agricultural science valued in the UK?", "Does the regulatory framework foster or stifle innovation?' and "Is the balance right between productivity and environmental protection?"- will get a warm welcome from professionals working within production horticulture who are more accustomed to a deafening silence from Government on such issues.

The deep frustration of the production horticulture sector in particular in relation to this final question, was most recently and powerfully expressed by leading grower Mark Tinsley in a speech to January's ADAS/Syngenta vegetable conference.

In particular he criticised Defra's prioritisation of environmental issues above commercial production - and its abandonment of horticultural research.

"Until we can change the UK government's strategy from one that is environment-focused to one that has a balanced approach to commerce, social requirements and the environment, we will struggle," Tinsley told his audience.

Part of the problem is undoubtedly lack of awareness.  When Horticulture Week reporters tackled politicians on the subject at a recent parliamentary gathering, many were astounded to hear that it is virtually impossible for a grower to gain funding for the development of new technologies that could boost production in their business - unless by some miracle they also meet Defra's environmental objectives.

Said one shocked Westminster representative: "Any Government department that is not focused on job creation right now is simply not doing its job."

Let's hope the all-party group can help to shed some light on this dark area of Defra policy.

See Horticulture Week next week for a report back from the science and technology group's AGM.

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