HDC dressed to IMPRESS

HDC Jon Knight

Jon Knight, head of HDC

The HDC is working to “future proof” growers against the loss of plant protection products that could damage future sustainability

As British fresh produce growers brace themselves for the possible removal of some of their most useful plant protection products (PPPs), the Horticultural Development Company (HDC) is striving to rectify this situation by pushing for new alternatives for the market.

For nearly five years its SCEPTRE project, “Sustainable Crop and Environment Protection – Targeted Research for Edibles,” has led this effort. However, this project is coming to an end this spring (2015) and a new chapter in the UK’s research and development (R&D) process is about to start.

HDC’s head of R&D Jon Knight tells Produce Business UK that SCEPTRE is being succeeded by something bigger and better as part of the HDC’s long-term plan to “future proof” the UK’s horticulture industry.

Can you tell Produce Business UK more about the SCEPTRE project that ends in March (2015)?

Jon Knight: SCEPTRE was devised by the HDC in consultation with growers and researchers. It’s shaped and driven by the industry, whose aim was to look at the key gaps in crop production – especially those arising from the loss of current pesticides due to the stringent new European legislation.

It involved a consortium of some 25 members from the fresh produce industry, including research organisations like ADAS, grower groups including Berry Gardens Growers and agrochemical companies like BASF. SCEPTRE aimed, for example, to gain newExtension of Authorisation for Minor Use (EAMU)’s for the use of pesticides on horticulture crops.

So why is a new research programme for crop production succeeding SCEPTRE?

JK: We have a new plan, IMPRESS – “Integrated Management of Pests in Resilient Sustainable Systems”, that is being delivered as part of HDC’s “Fit for the Future” strategy.

This five-year “Fit for the Future” strategy was launched in 2013 and part of it identified the need to improve efficiency and reduce the costs of delivering results to our levy payers. We hope IMPRESS will fulfil this requirement for crop protection R&D.

So how will the new research programme, IMPRESS, differ from SCEPTRE?

JK: SCEPTRE is largely focused on trialling new plant protection products. For instance, SCEPTRE has evaluated PPPs that could help fill the gaps in the market. [in its third year, for example, SCEPTRE screened some 52 conventional plant protection products (PPPs), 21 PPPs based on microorganisms and seven PPPs based on botanical extracts.]

IMPRESS will build on much of the work that SCEPTRE has started but will also include reactive, crop sector-specific work where necessary – and all the other crop protection work. IMPRESS will, for example, proactively focus on forward-looking, thematic, cross-sector work. It will identify where the gaps in the market are occurring and where they are likely to occur within the next five years with a view to filling them.

Are there any other ways in which the new research programme will differ to SCEPTRE?

JK: Yes. IMPRESS will focus strongly on biological controls, and the development of IPM whereas SCEPTRE was mainly about conventional [chemical] pesticides. We also hope that it will be a simplification.

There will be fewer research projects but these projects will be larger. So we will not be managing hundreds of individual projects for lots of different types of crops. This means that the growers who pay us a levy, which helps fund the research, will be getting better value for their money. And with this new structure will come the ability to work with people over a longer period of time, which is good as it means that we only have to work with one contractor.

The big win is that we can then focus on delivering the results back to the industry more efficiently. We also intend to continue to partner with other organisations and government research councils like Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Innovate UK.

Can you tell us more about HDC’s Fit for the Future Strategy? Why was it developed, for example?

JK: I think maybe through an education process there’s been a realisation from the UK’s fresh produce industry that you cannot exist in your own world – that actually we need to work together and be able to show that our work is having an impact.

The strategy therefore developed over a number of years but it was published in 2013. Since then we have been trying to put it into action.

The plan identified several areas that we need to work on to maintain or enhance the competitiveness and sustainability of UK horticulture businesses. This includes the need to identify, and develop, larger projects that address the emerging big issues for horticulture.

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