No investment - no future for fruit

Friday, 5 February 2021

Peter Thomson, is the Managing Director of Thomas Thomson (Blairgowrie) Ltd. His company is a family business that has been growing soft fruit since 1979 and currently specialises in cherries and blueberries which are sold to the UK domestic market.

The AHDB is currently going through the process of voting on its existence. Some growers, unhappy about paying the statutory levy, called for a vote on whether it should continue. They may have had varied motives for this, but if the vote is to close the parts of the AHDB involved, it will signal the end of most of the independent research conducted for horticulture, with dire consequences for the future of the industry. If an industry fails to invest in its future, it will quickly find that it does not have a future. If it relies on its suppliers, or its biggest private growers to do research into new problem pests, new varieties, replacement treatments for older pesticides, it will find that the results are not available to them, or they have to pay more, or that the research never happens and their problems only get worse. If the complaint is that they cannot afford to pay the levy, they will quickly find that their profits decline even faster as they face pests they cannot deal with, or better varieties from competitors.

The AHDB has a record of successful research that has saved the industry large amounts of money. In my own sector of soft fruit, the vital need for approvals for new chemicals under the EAMU scheme has been well supported, and most of these vital new controls would be under threat,  leaving the industry naked in the face of new pests, and unable to take advantage of some the more environmentally beneficial new treatments that our customers want.

New varieties of strawberries (Malling Centenary) and raspberries (Glen Dee and many others to come), have come from the breeding programmes supported by the AHDB, giving growers an alternative to the varieties from proprietary programmes that they may not have access to anyway. AHDB research has shown that prediction models for diseases such as botrytis and powdery mildew can hugely reduce the need for control sprays, or sometimes eliminate them altogether. This can save growers a lot of money as well as being what we need to do for the environment. Similarly, water and fertiliser use can be reduced by accurate controls. These technologies, only developed with the support of the AHDB, save growers far more than they pay in levies.

I have heard that growers can get all the information from other sources without having to pay their levy. They do not realise that a lot of what they hear will have been derived from AHDB research in the first place, and this will not take place if a “no” vote stops this original research.

The AHDB is not perfect, and is certainly not as efficient or near to growers as the HDC which was merged into it, but it has promised to reform and address its running costs and how it meets growers needs. This will, I hope, make it an efficient organisation, able to help with the huge challenges we all face, but without it, we will go naked into a dangerous future, far less able to adapt and thrive as the world changes about us.