Farming - Growers unite to back research and development levy

With the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) winding down its activities in the potato and horticulture sectors, fears are rising that note-0 funding for key high level research will be overlooked.

Ornamental plant grower Martin Emmett
Ornamental plant grower Martin Emmett

And a group of concerned producers have set up the voluntary Growers’ Better Levy Group (GBLG) to foster a collaborative approach to funding innovation, research and development, and the translation of science into practice.

The group, which is currently made up of 36 independent businesses in the sectors, is in discussion with both Defra and the Scottish government seeking support for a managed research agency run by growers.

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“The aim of the group is to ensure a healthy and sustainable UK horticultural industry within which businesses can thrive,” said Martin Emmett, an ornamental plant grower. But he stressed that the GBLG was a group of concerned levy payers, not a democratically elected board.

The group includes businesses from all relevant crop sectors: tree fruit, soft fruit, potatoes, protected edibles, mushrooms, field vegetables andornamentals, as well as crop associations and research organisations from across the UK.

Emmett said the group had outlined all the priority areas of critical Innovation, research and development required by the UK’s horticulture and potato sectors and has also defined how a grower-run R&D investment board might operate.

“We feel that our proposed way forward on how R&D is conducted for the industry is the right approach and has the support of all 36 businesses involved, as well as a number of research organisations and grower groups,” he said.

Glasshouse grower, Phil Pearson, who chairs the group added that a new agency could emulate models which already existed in New Zealand and Australia.

“The R&D would be directed by an elected, independent board of representative growers who would decide on research priorities and projects, in consultation with the wider industry, including businesses and grower associations.”

But the group stressed that while a small statutory levy might be required to fund critical work, all research and development work should be put out to competitive tender – adding that overhead costs should not exceed 15 per cent of levies paid.

Archie Gibson of Agrico, a well-known face in the Scottish potato sector who is supportive of the proposals, agreed that backing fundamental research and supporting the country’s world-leading research institutes was important.

And he added that ensuring that science which had already been carried out, including the Sutton Bridge storage work, continued to be developed.

But he also issued a warning. “It is also important to realise that without some support from both the Scottish and UK governments the blight and aphid warning services which were run by the AHDB will also come to an end this season’”

Gibson added that it was important the authorities stepped in to continue the serviceto give growers a couple of years to organise their own funding.

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