Horticulture Strategic Farms – Innovation Hub: To undertake a programme of work designed to identify and deliver practical, adoptable solutions to address a range of technical and cultural issues identified by growers.

Horticulture Strategic Farms – Innovation Hub

Purpose/primary objective

To undertake a programme of work designed to identify and deliver practical, adoptable solutions to address a range of technical and cultural issues identified by growers.


Knowledge Exchange activities in several AHDB sectors have strategic farms at their core with the programme on each of these farms being tailored to the needs of the sector resulting in grower-led initiatives which strengthen the link between research and farming.

“Strategic farms drive the technical and strategic development of the industry by showcasing and testing outputs of research or best practice in a commercial environment. The farmers and growers test and demonstrate research solutions or aspects of best practice defined by AHDB, in agreement with the host, to meet the needs of farmers in that sector and region.” AHDB mission statement for the Strategic farm programme. 

Horticulture are ambitious to develop a strategic farm initiative for the FV sector, which will need to operate in close consultation with the established network of grower groups in the sector, and which we aim to commission through this call for proposals.

The diversity of crops in horticulture means that it is appropriate for programmes to be organised by crop rather than by region meaning that the FV strategic farm initiative needs to be both flexible and operated as an innovation hub (ihub) rather than a fixed site with satellite trial locations chosen to suit the agronomic needs of each crop type included.  The challenge for contractors will be to overlay this with a focussed programme of events which provide engagement opportunities, including open day style meetings, whilst considering the time pressures that the growers we need to interact with the ihub are under.

The ihub concept hinges on direct grower observation of technical developments to promote grower to grower feedback on trials in order to draw in and build on the significant technical expertise and experience held within the grower community supported and enhanced by the expertise brought in by contractors delivering a range of work packages within the ihub programme.  The significant business expertise of grower participants will also be valuable resources to both steering the design of work packages delivered, and the interpretation of outputs on a credible financial footing.

Technology transfer by means of informal peer to peer learning is central to the philosophy of the ihub.


The core requirement of all ihub trials will be to identify practical, adoptable solutions for a range of commercially prioritised technical issues, underpinning productive change in practise for the industry.  It is envisaged that the ihub will deliver variety evaluation work for carrots, onions, vining peas, and Brassicas to at least the standard achieved with past separate variety trials for these crops (see examples of relevant past work below).  Extension to other crops will also be considered, according to resources available.  The ihub will build on this core of variety evaluation work with additional trials and/or treatments focussing on other aspects of integrated crop management to help the industry anticipate and deal with disruptions to established crop protection programmes.

Alongside a core of field trials, the ihub will deliver a range of demonstrations, workshops, reviews etc, as appropriate, keeping grower to grower, and grower to consultant interaction at the heart of all activities.  These events will encourage informal interaction and learning between the complementary sectors of the industry – growers, crop advisors, the seed and agrochemical industry, in a crop specific context which reflects the needs of each sector.

A collaborative approach will be essential to successful delivery of this initiative as will the capacity to be both flexible and agile to allow for dynamic responses to emerging issues.  Linkages to established research programmes e.g. SCEPTREplus will also be important. This could be through providing field plots to host work from other programmes as well as through extrapolating from trial results to wider contexts/varieties/species or further demonstrating principles on a commercial scale.  These programmes should build on emerging technical advances from the international research and development community and not be constrained to the outcomes of AHDB funded research

Minimum expectations for core variety trials

Selections tested should:-

  • include a range of active breeding companies and should be relevant to the current technical priorities of the grower association for that crop (i.e. British Carrot Growers Association, British Onion Producers Association, Legume Panel, Brassica growers Association etc.)

  • Secure contributions of cash and in-kind from seed companies for inclusion of their varieties

  • include a commercially credible standard variety alongside truly novel material, which should be sourced in collaboration with relevant suppliers to the UK market

  • be tested through to storage where required

  • be grown according to current commercial agronomic standards

Data on key yield and quality traits should align with current market specifications, as agreed with the relevant industry representatives for each crop species.

Size of individual trials to be aligned with 2018 trials for each of carrots, onions, peas and Brassicas.

Add-on work packages should be designed to complement these variety trials in line with the aims described above.  The default should be for add-on trials to be co-located with variety trials of each crop species. 

Suggested add-on work for the initial ihub programme includes:-

  • Screening of onion varieties included in the variety trials, and appropriate VEGin (or similar) germplasm for susceptibility to Fusarium oxysporum sp. cepae (using a suitable pathogenic isolate) using a glasshouse seedling bioassay or similar. Drawing on previous AHDB funded research on Fusarium of onions, using an approved protocol for inoculation. 
  • Demonstration of Brassica diagnostics developed in project ‘FV 456 - Delivery of a diagnostic test pilot scheme for Brassicas and Onions’, and preceeding work, with growers either in Cornwall (complementary to Brassica variety trials), or in Lincolnshire. Should include a field Open Day and presentation(s) to growers, with the aim of demonstrating and building confidence in diagnostics. Collaboration with existing projects is encouraged.

These ideas are indicative and not intended to be exhaustive.  Proposals will be scored according to their capacity to provide innovative suggestions for work to compliment the core variety trials and form a route for channelling international IPM developments for UK production systems.

Please note the work programme will need steering group approval and proposers are encouraged to liaise with relevant industry representatives when developing suggested work packages and to be clear in their evidence about the size and scope of this consultation.  The successful proposal will also need to demonstrate evidence of capacity to work in close liaison with the British Growers Association given their key role in managing grower associations including events linked to these groups.

Proposals should be designed to cover a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 5 years of trials for each of these core species and expand to other species as project resource allows, in agreement with the ihub steering group. Conclusions should be drawn on a range of varietal characteristics over several years to complement data collected on a one year basis.

Each variety trial will, at a minimum, hold one open day per year, or two in the case of trials which include a storage element, with a dissemination plan to reach growers unable to attend these events in person.

Innovative speakers and demonstrations

AHDB also invites proposals from contractors interested in sharing and demonstrating innovative solutions to crop protection issues, particularly around pest and disease monitoring, forecasting and diagnostic tools.  Suggestions for demonstration in other areas linked to managing resources or developments in crop production techniques is also of interest to our growers.

Budget will be based on content, but speakers for events would be expected to budget for their inputs to ihub events eg; presentations/demonstrations for up to four meetings per year.

Relevant AHDB funded research

FV 202g Brassicas: an evaluation of autumn/winter cauliflower cultivars, spring cabbage cultivars and other winter Brassica crops.

FV 340b  Vining peas: Variety evaluation trials.

FV 348d  Onions – Independent assessment of field and storage potential of varieties.

Carrot Variety Demonstration

FV POBOF 452 Fusarium: Investigations into the control of basal rots in crops

FV 456 Delivery of a Diagnostic test pilot scheme for Brassicas and onions

Reports for each of these projects can be found on the AHDB website at https://horticulture.ahdb.org.uk/


Applicants are encouraged generate a collaborative application capable of delivering individual elements of the Innovation Hub activities according to their area(s) of expertise whilst also co-ordinating as a team to share and benefit from best practise approaches and work collaboratively on industry wide challenges, such as the need to evolve crop protection practise in the face of declining pesticide availability. However, if complementary expertise is identified prospective contractors are encouraged to submit a joint proposal. AHDB may, if it is deemed desirable, request applicants to form a project consortium.

A meeting for prospective contractors is planned for 27 September 2018 with the purpose of bringing prospective consortium partners together as well as to air questions that will arise from this novel opportunity.


The total annual programme budget will be £100,000 (provisional).

We expect £60,000 of this budget will cover the core variety trials which we expect to be split in the following approximate proportions:

Carrot trials 10.0%

Vining peas 22.5%

Brassicas 22.5%

Onions 45.0%

The remaining £40,000 annual budget will support add-on trials designed to demonstrate/investigate priority topics as relevant to each crop species provisionally allocated as £10,000 for each of these, but with flexibility to amend these between trials in agreement with the project steering group.

This new initiative focuses on crops with an established history of successful variety trials, however our longer term vision is to support other field vegetable crop species.  Proposers are encouraged to submit ideas that assist with this expansion as a phased approach either within the scope of a single innovation hub or through the development of additional and closely related ihubs.

Note: Proportions refer to annual budget except for onions where it is one crop growing and storage cycle.

Application procedure

Applicants should complete an AHDB Research and KE Application Form – Full Proposal Large, referring to the guidance notes to aid completion. 

Applications are made on the basis of the AHDB Research Funding Agreement and any organisation receiving funding shall comply with the terms and conditions specified in the RFA. AHDB will not be held responsible for any expenses or losses incurred by applicants in the preparation of an application(s).

Completed application forms should be submitted to research@ahdb.org.uk no later than midday on the 30 November 2019.

Proposed timings for application and project delivery

Stage of Process


Call published

5 September 2018

Full proposal submission deadline

30 November 2018

Applicants informed of outcome

14 December 2018

Project commencement

1 January 2019

Project completion

31 December 2023 (project review after 3 years)


If you have a specific question related to this call please email research@ahdb.org.uk. As part of the open tender process AHDB cannot discuss specific project details prior to submission of a proposal. All Questions and Answers can be accessed here.

Evaluation of submissions

A number of criteria will be will used to judge the quality of each of the submissions.

Programme outcomes

Beneficiaries appropriately identified. Approach to deliver industry knowledge exchange (KE) and links to existing AHDB KE activities. Programme benefits and impact for industry identified. Appropriateness and clarity of industry engagement. Timeframe qualified to deliver impact. Clarification over additional activities/resource required to deliver impact. Environmental benefits appropriately identified and any negative impacts detailed. Key Performance Indicators identified. 0-10 score; weighting of 3

Technical approach and work plan

Evaluation of current knowledge (with appropriate references) and awareness of other work, with emphasis on commercially relevant international developments in IPM with proven success in the field. Clarity of aims, objectives, trials and milestone schedule. Originality and innovation. Effective collaboration with commercial companies. Work package design sufficiently robust for growers to confidently pilot outcomes in their own production systems. Feasibility and risk management. Is project management addressed and sufficient? Is the range of KE employed, including innovative approaches, fully explained? Does it encourage grower to grower learning, adding value and impact to the established grower interactions? Does it address the needs of the crop, and show link-up between growers in different areas of the UK? Evidence of effective or potential for effective interactions between consortium members, with clear synergy between different work packages for mutual benefit.  Are the timescales against the milestones described achievable? 0-10 score; weighting of 4

Relevant expertise

Knowledge and expertise. Quality of past contributions to, and impact on, the topic. Potential to bring added value through current and/or past contributions. Complementarities of expertise of the team. Is there sufficient industry contact capability within the team? Delivery record on previous AHDB funded work, both research and KE, satisfactory. 0-10 score; weighting of 1

Programme costs

Are costs reasonable, clearly defined and necessary? Are the resources for time, equipment and management clearly identified, including a breakdown of time inputs by each member of the project team, and are resources sufficient to deliver the programme goals? Will the total budget be adequate to carry out the proposed activities? Added value of co-funding from other parties? Do costs adequately cover the cost of project management? (A project leader will be appointed to manage the coordination of all aspects of the ihub programme). 0-10 score; weighting of 2

Any proposal that scores less than 50% overall in the evaluation process will be rejected. AHDB reserves the right to liaise with the successful applicant to further develop proposal content as required.

For each of the four criteria under examination the following scoring system will be applied:



Exceptional quality; cutting-edge; highly likely to produce benefits/impact of great importance to the industry; highly innovative; impactful KE activities proposed; applicant is widely recognized in the field with an outstanding record of accomplishment; consortium is strong across all technical areas needed to accomplish the proposed outcomes. Strongly recommend support


Very good

High quality; potential to make an important contribution; innovative; likely to produce significant benefits/ impact for the industry; impactful KE activities proposed; applicant has a good reputation in the field; consortium appears to have more than adequate expertise across all technical areas required to deliver the proposed outcomes. Strongly recommend support



Interesting; innovative; likely to produce good benefits/impact; good grasp of appropriate KE activities; applicant has a solid reputation in the field; consortium appears to have adequate expertise across all technical areas required to deliver the proposed outcomes. Should be supported



Interesting but little originality; likelihood of making significant impact is small; may require significant additional investment to deliver benefits; applicant/team lacks experience, has not established leadership in the field or demonstrated the potential to make impactful contributions. Support may be considered if strong in other areas



Poor quality; not well planned; lacking expertise; not feasible; unlikely to make an important contribution to fundamental or applied knowledge; unlikely to produce benefits/impact; lacking convincing evidence that the proposing team has sufficient and appropriate expertise to accomplish all of the tasks as outlined in the proposal. Should not be supported


Very poor

Very poor quality; duplicative of other work; fails to address the issues; no evidence for demand; cannot be judged against the criterion due to missing or incomplete information. Should not be supported