Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


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.


  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 its obligations.

  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 the researchers.

  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

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