British tomato growers were challenged to open doors to new talent and to help showcase the technical and fast-moving horticultural sector at the Great British Tomato Conference in Kenilworth last month.
Growers heard about initiatives to encourage more young people, from school children to PhD students, to engage with the fresh produce production industry.
Chris Baldwin, operations director at The APS Group’s Europa Nursery in Kent, outlined the importance of educating children about the science of growing and to show them where their food comes from. Chris showcased the STEM programme, Captivate to Cultivate, which was set up to inspire pupils to explore, investigate and discover subjects in a fun and stimulating learning environment away from the constraints of the school curriculum.
Growers also heard from AHDB Horticulture-funded PhD students on their research projects. University of Southampton PhD student Bethan Shaw, working at NIAB EMR, presented ways to enhance control against spotted wing drosophila by exploiting daily rhythms.
Harper Adams University lecturer, Jim Monaghan, gave undergraduates from various universities a flavour of a career in horticulture through summer placements, as part of an AHDB Horticulture-funded fellowship project (CP 087).
“Of the 18 students who took part over the course of the programme, 13 are now working within fresh produce and horticulture commercially or through research,” he enthused.
Phil Pearson, Group Development Director of The APS Group and Chair of the British Tomato Growers’ Association Technical Committee, said: “We are faced with a huge challenge in the edibles sector of getting fresh and raw talent into the industry. We need to tackle the image problem of horticulture, as being simply gardening.
“Growers heard of great examples of initiatives across a range of education levels and had an opportunity to talk directly to students about their work and ambitions. This is a call to action for all growers, starting with The APS Group to invest in the next generation.”