Memorandum submitted by the Chairman,
Horticultural Development Council (D 30)
1.1 I welcome this opportunity to put my
views to the Agriculture Committee and hope that they will be
of assistance in shaping future horticultural research and development
capability within the United Kingdom. The views expressed are
my own but I believe that my colleagues serving on the Horticultural
Development Council (HDC) share them.
1.2 My own experience of the horticultural
industry is limited to the period since February this year when
I was appointed as chairman of the HDC. I have spent over thirty
years involved with strategic and operational management within
the worldwide oil industry and I was Managing Director of Shell
UK Ltd from 1995 to 1998.
1.3 The HDC Council has 14 members, 11 representing
growers, one with expertise in marketing, one representing employees
in the industry and an independent chairman. The Council is charged
with collecting a levy and facilitating near-market research and
development and the transfer of appropriate technology in order
to benefit growers.
1.4 The views expressed here have been communicated
to HRI in a series of ongoing discussions and I understand that
they are considering them.
HRI IN THE
2.1 Currently HRI is the major contractor
to the HDC, receiving 70 per cent of HDC research funds. The remainder
is split almost equally between ADAS, universities and consultants.
A vibrant HRI therefore remains essential if the HDC is to fulfil
2.2 There is increasing concern over the
ability of HRI to service the development needs of the industry
and there appears to have been insufficient appropriate resourcing
and profile for this part of HRI activities. There are many respected
scientists within HRI with the skills profile to service this
part of the industry's needs but in my view they require greater
recognition and support. Whilst recognising the importance of
the long-term benefits of strategic research there is an urgent
need to raise the profile of research and development leading
to clear results, which can be implemented. In this respect the
whole system of recognition and reward for the Research &
Development (R&D) community at large needs addressing if this
change is to happen. This is particularly true for an institute
such as HRI that focuses on a particular industry.
2.3 In parallel with reward and recognition,
continuity of funding for key researchers remains a difficult
issue within the United Kingdom. Although research institutes
must be responsive to customer demand and change capabilities
accordingly there is probably also a case for certain key experts
attracting a more permanent status to serve the industry. The
HDC could play a role in this within horticulture.
2.4 Some near-market research is often conducted
in a way that the valuable results are not in a form that can
benefit growers without further work being commissioned. This
is a wider issue that simply transferring results to growers and
it stems from the need for a more pragmatic and focused approach
towards much of the development programme. HDC must take its share
of responsibility in this respect and work with the researchers
at HRI and other institutes to ensure that the crucial finishing
step is addressed. Post project reviews will assist this process
but it must be complimented by a thrust for implementation from
2.5 The majority of the work at HRI is centred
on plant science. This must remain the case but there is also
an urgent need for a more holistic approach to many of the R&D
issues facing horticulture. It would be of great value if HRI
increased its capability in the horticultural aspects of mechanisation,
economics, production systems and ergonomics even if this were
limited to desktop studies. HRI do have close working relationships
with some other institutes but these need to be strengthened if
the issues are to be effectively addressed.
2.6 This raises the whole issue of the structure
of horticultural research within the United Kingdom, the role
and boundaries of the various institutes and where there is an
appropriate balance of resource and attention given to the various
topic areas. A fundamental review of the roles of HRI, Central
Science Laboratory, Institute of Arable Crop Research-Rothamsted,
John Innes Centre, Silsoe Research Institute, Campden and Chorleywood
Food Research Association, Scottish Agriculture College and Scottish
Crop Research Institute together with key universities and some
private sector research institutes would seem very valuable. This
would provide much greater insight and benefit than is likely
to come out of a series of individual periodic reviews.
The HDC continues to appreciate and value the
essential work undertaken by HRI on its behalf.
It is essential for the good of the industry
that HRI increases the capability for focused near-market research
undertaken for levy bodies and commercial customers. In this context
it is very regrettable that key staff at Stockbridge House have
declined to remain with HRI. HDC intends to continue to work with
HRI to minimise the effect of grower funded programmes including
the SOLA arrangements. However this requires HRI to carefully
map its development capability and ensure experienced and focused
R&D staff are available and appropriately recognised and rewarded.
I would, of course, be happy to provide further
elaboration if required.
28 November 2000