Memorandum submitted by the National Farmers'
Union of England and Wales (NFU) (D 40)
1. The National Farmers' Union of England
and Wales (NFU) welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the
inquiry by the Agriculture Committee into the Role and Responsibilities
of Horticulture Research International (HRI).
2. The NFU represents 50,000 farmers and
growers in England and Wales. Some 10,000 of those have a direct
interest in horticulture. The NFU firmly believes that it is vital
for the Government and the industry itself to invest in Research
and Development both for the immediate viability of the industry
and to retain competitiveness in the future. Horticulture is a
lightly supported sector within agriculture and Government commitment
to funding horticultural research and development is crucial to
the future. Growers already contribute significant funds towards
horticultural research and development through levy bodies such
as the APRC and the HDC, as well as in commercial arrangements
with providers. This work complements Government funding of horticultural
research and development, resulting in the Government getting
good value for money for its spending.
3. The NFU believes that HRI fulfils a unique,
and successful role in meeting the needs of industry in respect
of research and development, consultancy and information and knowledge
transfer in horticulture. It is essential that HRI is in an effective
position to transfer information up and down the supply chain
while at the same time maintaining a critical mass in all sectors
of the research chain from basic to applied. If this capability
was to be lost, the consequences for the horticultural industry
would be severe.
HRI was formed specifically, and by broad agreement,
to provide a means of linking publicly-funded fundamental and
strategic research with applied, industry-funded research and
development, resulting in effective knowledge and technology interaction
for the benefit of the industry, consumers and the environment.
During the past 10 years, HRI has built extensive customer-contractor
links, as can be shown by the participation of HRI in so many
of the successful horticulture LINK projects. HRI has brought
its scientific expertise to bear in addressing the practical problems
and opportunities of the market place. In addition, HRI researchers
are exploring areas of molecular plant science, which will be
of vital relevance to the industry and consumers in the medium
5. The NFU believes that, since HRI was
formed in 1990, there is much evidence to show that it has made
outstanding contributions to the scientific community, the industry
and ultimately the consumer. One small example of this would be
the highly-valued Specific Off-Label Approval programme on which
HRI is the main contractor for the Horticultural Development Council
(HDC) and others. HDC is a statutory levy body which collects
a levy from the growing industry. Without this programme many
minor crops could have ceased to be grown in the United Kingdom
to the detriment both of the industry and in consumer choice.
This is a clear example of HRI facing up to and responding to
the challenge of continuing decline in public funding while continuing
to deliver work of the highest quality.
6. The current structure of HRI and network
of sites with which growers readily identify has been highly valued
by the industry. It has given growers confidence in HRI both in
terms of its relevance and in terms of its ability to communicate
with the national growing base. Recent concerns of growers following
the announcement of the closure of HRI Stockbridge House show
clear evidence of how highly growers have valued the development
work done by HRI.
7. The NFU recognises that, particularly
because of reductions in MAFF funding of horticultural research
and development, HRI is now in a position of having to take action
to reduce financial losses. The NFU is adamant that for the good
of the UK horticulture industry, a healthy, vibrant HRI is crucial.
To maintain a competitive horticultural industry, research and
development is vital and is the lifeblood of the future. Long-term
adequate Government funding for horticultural research and development
must be secured, as well as HRI continuing to seek additional
sources of funding to ensure critical mass R&D teams for the
benefit of the industry, and the UK science base and economy as
a whole. Technology interaction, both at home and abroad, should
play a major part in the future of HRI and it is essential that
HRI communicates effectively with the industry. The NFU firmly
believes that HRI must continue with its commitment to development
work, which has proved so valuable to the UK industry.
8. In conclusion, against the background
of increasing exposure to world markets and over-valued sterling,
the NFU is adamant that for the good of the UK horticulture industry,
a strong and committed HRI is crucial.
4 December 2000