Scientists attack soft fruit research cutbacks


Scientists attack soft fruit research cutbacks

Scientists attack government review plan to cut back on horticulture research as “another blow to Britain’s rural economy.”

A quinquennial review of Horticulture Research International recommended closing down or merging its site at East Malling, Kent, and cutting HRI’s links to DEFRA, its parent body. The East Malling research station is Britain’s leading centre of expertise for growing soft fruits, employing 130 research scientists, PhD students and farm workers.

On behalf of staff at HRI, Tony Bell, Prospect national secretary, accused DEFRA of abandoning its responsibilities to science and British horticulture. He said: “This review is another blow to Britain’s rural economy. It would leave HRI and the horticultural industry to sink or swim instead of putting together a rescue plan that would save thousands of jobs.”

He said the review also flies in the face of a recent DEFRA study which found there was no coherent national strategy for horticultural R&D and urged government to co-ordinate funding and research. “Instead DEFRA is being advised to fragment the one UK body which could drive a coherent national policy.

“Britain’s apple industry is in a bad way and desperately needs expertise to diversify into alternative crops like cherries, plums and other soft fruits. But these need research to be economic in the UK because of late frosts and early drop-off before harvest time.”

The DEFRA review called for HRI to cease to be a non-departmental public body (NDPB) sponsored by DEFRA; turning its headquarters at HRI Wellesbourne into a company and eventually merging it with Warwick University; and merging HRI Wye with the Imperial College at Wye.