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Growing Success

people and plant

The Horticulture Group hosted Growing Success: Horticultural Business Perspectives on 21 November at SCI’s London headquarters. The primary objective was to promote the benefits of knowledge transfer to the horticultural business community and specifically to increase awareness of the government-sponsored Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) scheme.

‘KTP remains one of the country’s best kept secrets’, said event organiser and chairman of the Horticulture Group, Mike Hall. Speakers at this event represented key stakeholders who would be engaged in any successful KTP contract: the research scientist, the company director and the ‘associate’ who carries out the ‘transfer’. Typically, KTPs run for about two years and are delivered by highly motivated, specialist graduates known as ‘associates’. An insightful overview from this perspective was delivered by Dr Pascaline Le Lay, who spoke of her work with Thurlow Countryside Management. Thurlow, along with academic expertise from Writtle, addressed strategically important issues concerned with invasive weeds with reference to Le Lay’s study on the mortality of the Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica).

Speaking from the government’s perspective, Dr Paul Naylor emphasised the commitment to grow KTPs (Sainsbury Review of Science and Innovation – October 2007) and told delegates that the Technology Strategy Board was targeted to double the number of projects in 2009. This growth will include shorter schemes that have evolved from within Regional Development Agencies. Naylor explained that knowledge transfer interactions between companies and the university sector are a tried and tested mechanism from which on-going collaborative activity can often arise. From experience, Naylor suggested that the best projects are those that offer mutual benefit to both the scientist and the company. However, in a typical project, all parties have to allow time and resource to get used to each other and enable a team spirit to develop. From working with the East of England’s Knowledge Transfer Network, Mike Hall reported that, according to their member higher education establishments, more companies were seeking to engage with knowledge transfer activity.

Other perspectives on knowledge transfer projects were presented. Dr Barry Mulholland from the Duchy College in Cornwall gave a fascinating talk about knowledge transfer applications used to safeguard heritage plant conservation. Mark Tully, managing director of Landseer presented an overview of the KTP benefits that were delivered by his company’s work with Writtle College, associated with SmartFresh. They produced a freshness protection system using a sugar-based powder formulation containing 3.3% 1-methycyclopropene that is similar in structure to ethylene.

Food supply, security and traceability were themes explored by Ian Merton, a director of MorePeople and former food director of Sainsbury’s, who warned that the downturn in the economy was affecting the buying habits of the public. His message to delegates was clear. Any company operating today should be looking to reduce its cost base. Innovation and creative thinking was essential if companies were to survive and in the future grow and take advantage of new business opportunities. He stressed that strategic partnerships with the knowledge-based economy – the university sector – was a key in creating these new opportunities.

The event concluded with an inspirational presentation from Tully Wakeman, managing director of East Anglia Food Link. Tully emphasised the urgency of ‘post-peak oil’ food production. He provided statistics that show how oil consumption has vastly outstripped both oil discovery and extraction rates.

Speaking of the need to develop resilient food supply systems with a minimal reliance on capital, oil, fertilisers and pesticides, Tully said we should start with what we eat by reducing meat and dairy production and focusing on growing seasonal, locally-sourced vegetables. He also called for a greater range of grains and pulses to be grown, rather than over-reliance on imports and highly processed frozen or canned products. The East Anglia Food Link message was emphatic, to survive in the post-peak oil 21st century, beef and sheep should be grazed on marginal land, pigs and chickens fed on waste food and vegetable production should be developed in urban and periurban areas.

The event was kindly sponsored by MorePeople, a recruitment and human resources practice that specialises in horticulture and by the Horticultural Development Company, a statutory body funded by a grower levy that provides much of the developmental research for the industry. Following the success of this conference, the SCI Horticulture Group has already made plans for future events and it is aligning itself with other technical interest groups.

Mike Hall, Horticulture Group

Horticultural business meets knowledge transfer 

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