Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the National Farmers' Union of England and Wales (NFU) (D 40)

  1.  The National Farmers' Union of England and Wales (NFU) welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the inquiry by the Agriculture Committee into the Role and Responsibilities of Horticulture Research International (HRI).

  2.  The NFU represents 50,000 farmers and growers in England and Wales. Some 10,000 of those have a direct interest in horticulture. The NFU firmly believes that it is vital for the Government and the industry itself to invest in Research and Development both for the immediate viability of the industry and to retain competitiveness in the future. Horticulture is a lightly supported sector within agriculture and Government commitment to funding horticultural research and development is crucial to the future. Growers already contribute significant funds towards horticultural research and development through levy bodies such as the APRC and the HDC, as well as in commercial arrangements with providers. This work complements Government funding of horticultural research and development, resulting in the Government getting good value for money for its spending.

  3.  The NFU believes that HRI fulfils a unique, and successful role in meeting the needs of industry in respect of research and development, consultancy and information and knowledge transfer in horticulture. It is essential that HRI is in an effective position to transfer information up and down the supply chain while at the same time maintaining a critical mass in all sectors of the research chain from basic to applied. If this capability was to be lost, the consequences for the horticultural industry would be severe.

  HRI was formed specifically, and by broad agreement, to provide a means of linking publicly-funded fundamental and strategic research with applied, industry-funded research and development, resulting in effective knowledge and technology interaction for the benefit of the industry, consumers and the environment. During the past 10 years, HRI has built extensive customer-contractor links, as can be shown by the participation of HRI in so many of the successful horticulture LINK projects. HRI has brought its scientific expertise to bear in addressing the practical problems and opportunities of the market place. In addition, HRI researchers are exploring areas of molecular plant science, which will be of vital relevance to the industry and consumers in the medium future.

  5.  The NFU believes that, since HRI was formed in 1990, there is much evidence to show that it has made outstanding contributions to the scientific community, the industry and ultimately the consumer. One small example of this would be the highly-valued Specific Off-Label Approval programme on which HRI is the main contractor for the Horticultural Development Council (HDC) and others. HDC is a statutory levy body which collects a levy from the growing industry. Without this programme many minor crops could have ceased to be grown in the United Kingdom to the detriment both of the industry and in consumer choice. This is a clear example of HRI facing up to and responding to the challenge of continuing decline in public funding while continuing to deliver work of the highest quality.

  6.  The current structure of HRI and network of sites with which growers readily identify has been highly valued by the industry. It has given growers confidence in HRI both in terms of its relevance and in terms of its ability to communicate with the national growing base. Recent concerns of growers following the announcement of the closure of HRI Stockbridge House show clear evidence of how highly growers have valued the development work done by HRI.

  7.  The NFU recognises that, particularly because of reductions in MAFF funding of horticultural research and development, HRI is now in a position of having to take action to reduce financial losses. The NFU is adamant that for the good of the UK horticulture industry, a healthy, vibrant HRI is crucial. To maintain a competitive horticultural industry, research and development is vital and is the lifeblood of the future. Long-term adequate Government funding for horticultural research and development must be secured, as well as HRI continuing to seek additional sources of funding to ensure critical mass R&D teams for the benefit of the industry, and the UK science base and economy as a whole. Technology interaction, both at home and abroad, should play a major part in the future of HRI and it is essential that HRI communicates effectively with the industry. The NFU firmly believes that HRI must continue with its commitment to development work, which has proved so valuable to the UK industry.

  8.  In conclusion, against the background of increasing exposure to world markets and over-valued sterling, the NFU is adamant that for the good of the UK horticulture industry, a strong and committed HRI is crucial.

4 December 2000

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