Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Dr Jeff Atherton, University of Nottingham (D 25)

  You asked for my views of horticultural research in the UK and HRI's place in it. As you may know, I am soon to leave Nottingham for a Chair in Horticulture overseas but I am pleased to be able to offer your committee some comments. These are as follows:

    —  The main organisations involved in horticultural research in the UK are HRI, ADAS, PGRO, Universities offering degrees in horticulture (Nottingham, Reading, Wye), some colleges (Writtle, Seale Hayne, Greenwich etc) and other universities with plant science or environmental science degrees sometimes get involved with specific aspects of horticulture (eg Lancaster, Manchester, Durham, Leeds etc).

    —  Funding to support research comes mainly from MAFF, BBSRC, NERC, HDC, EU and private contracts with industry. In the universities, fees paid by overseas postgraduate research students are very significant in maintaining our work—it has been extremely difficult and time consuming for us to obtain support from any of the bodies named earlier.

    —  HRI is by far the largest unit involved. It attracts, or else has channelled to it, most of the available funding. I read somewhere that they receive 80 per cent of the funding available for horticulture. With its full time research mission, it is able to concentrate resources on securing this funding through representatives on the controlling committees. The other organisations have suffered considerably over the past 15 years through HRI monopolising the funding.

    —  Horticultural research ranges from fundamental science to practical problem solving. HRI has involved itself with the entire range and as a result sometimes fails to satisfy all its customers. When applied research and all development work was handled by the regional experimental horticulture stations and the more fundamental studies were pursued by the Universities and the East Malling, Wellesbourne and Littlehampton sites of what was to become HRI, it was easier to manage. The forced marriage of the stations with the main HRI sites has been unhappy. The fundamental scientists tend to be rather arrogant and dismissive of applied and developmental work whilst the more practical scientists sometimes fail to see the point of basic science in a Horticultural Research institution. The whole business has been poorly managed.

    —  If the UK wants proper graduates in horticulture, rather than relabelled HNDs, it must ensure that they are educated in an environment of active scholarship and research. That environment can only be created if sufficient funding is made available. A radical solution would be to close HRI entirely, sell its sites and reallocate its staff, resources and funding to interested universities!

  I hope this adds something to the debate.

27 November 2000

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