Innovation will be key to maintaining competitiveness say horticulture leaders

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Horticulture industry leaders gathered in Peterborough last week (29 April 2015) to highlight the priorities which will ensure UK horticulture remains competitive in an increasingly global marketplace.

Access to new technology, greater automation, faster approval for new bio pesticides and attracting new entrants to the industry were some of the issues put by growers to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB)’s new CEO Jane King during a meeting to outline the challenges and opportunities facing the sector.

Jack Ward, CEO of British Growers, which coordinated the summit said: “UK growers are operating in a very competitive environment. Changing consumer habits and the rise of discount retailers is putting increased pressure on the supply chain.

“Suppliers are expected to continue to deliver better value, more choice and improved quality against a background of deflated food prices. AHDB and its specialist horticultural arm, AHDB Horticulture, have a crucial role to play in helping growers to meet these challenges.”

The industry’s leading players identified a strong research and development base as crucial in the drive to find new ways to develop the industry with less resource. Additionally, the on-going loss of pesticides to counter pests and diseases was acknowledged as a major issue for the industry.

Mr Ward continued: “Each season growers are encountering different threats to crops from pests and diseases and it is vital that there is an effective process in place to ensure a pipeline of new products to safeguard production and quality.”

Attracting high calibre people to the industry was also highlighted as a key concern. “The fresh produce industry offers exciting job opportunities but getting this message across to students when making choices about which career paths to choose and which qualifications to obtain, needs to be addressed by the industry as a whole” added Jack.

Jane King CEO of AHDB said: “AHDB Horticulture (HDC) is very focussed on delivering applied research that meets the needs of the industry. We work closely with British Gowers and the priorities identified by them are a key part of our work programme. We have always placed particular emphasis on crop protection issues and continue to work hard to maintain and enhance the crop protection toolbox for growers.

“At the same time we recognise the importance of driving new, innovative technology into the industry, and as part of our resource management programme we are starting to have an increasing focus on precision tools – which is why we are holding a ‘SmartAg’ conference this September. We continue to work with others to raise the profile of UK horticulture – this can only be done as a collaborative effort.”

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