Future Leaders for Production Horticulture.

One of the things that struck me during the growing Jobs project was that the official channels of horticulture education – at least on the production side – had come to an impasse with very few horticultural graduates and M Sc s being produced  and no real vision of where to go next.

Martin Emmett, technical manager at Binsted nurseries and himself a lecturer at Kew and Reading identified a major issue for the industry which was that there was currently no mechanism for training a future generation of production horticulture leaders who were able to combine technical skills in growing and management with the marketing and people skills to steer a path in an ever consolidating market place.

However we also discovered that nature hates a vacuum and left to their own devices people tend to come up with solutions of their own.

So I thought I’d tell you about a couple of initiatives which I’ve come across at Hadlow College (near Tonbridge) recently which are pushing back at some of these issues.

As well as re-launching its own horticulture degree course which now has 20 or so students, it has pioneered a three year  apprenticeship scheme aimed at the Kent Fruit Growing industry.

Fundamentally the scheme offers placements at various fruit growers to a programme specified by the growers themselves.  The aim is to train people for supervisory and management positions in the industry.

Speaking at the launch at the Marden Fruit Show in October, Mark Lumsdon-Taylor, the college’s finance director, said: “The industry is in desperate need of highly motivated new entrants. Successful apprentices will be assured of challenging and fulfilling jobs that afford good career progression.”

The college is seeking sponsorship money from the private sector to fund apprentice training so that it can fund applicants with degrees and other higher academic qualifications as well as individuals excluded by the government’s obsession with funding under 18s to the exclusion of anyone else.

This initiative is aimed at delivering a level 3 and potentially a level 4 qualification and is aimed at breaking down the poor image that the industry has with prospective entrants in the UK. The scheme allows Hadlow to do the teaching while students obtain experience in packhouse, marketing and growing.

Another recent innovation addresses the difficulties of producing a general production horticulture course due to the extreme specialisation of production methods, particularly in protected cropping.

Hadlow have created  a general horticulture course which allows students to choose which areas they want to specialise in and to work with particular growers to provide work experience. The first fruit (as it were ) of this approach has been  the creation of a “discovery Fellowship” by Thanet Earth ( a state of the art glasshouse complex in Kent that grows Tomatoes)  to pay a second year student to spend 9 months on new product development working in a dedicated greenhouse at Hadlow equipped with a growing system equivalent to the specialist equipment used to produce Tomatoes in the main Glasshouse.

Tom Pilcher

Tom Pilcher, winner of research award

The student, Tom Pilcher,  will work both with the growers at their site in Kent, interacting with both the technical and marketing teams and will be working back at Hadlow to try and develop some new varieties.

Robert James, Technical Manager at Thanet Earth Marketing explains that “New Product Development is complicated involving record keeping, dedicated research space, and a good understanding of how a commercial green house works.  We need to go beyond the research we can do in situ to work with the college off –site. This gives us a clear opportunity to provide as student with new skills and genuine commercial experience.”

This is a real contribution to Martin Emmett’s concern about the horticultural industry providing its new generation of leaders. People who can integrate the commercial, technical and biological skills needed to provide world class produce at an affordable price.

It’s hoped that the project will yield some promising new varieties for greenhouse trials and ultimately to retail shelves.  If it’s successful this could become an annual award.

 

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