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New fellowships will drive innovation in horticulture sector

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Horticulture Innovation Partnership are funding a new fellowship worth over £220,000.

Farming has a huge impact on the environment – growing more crops, using fertilisers and deforestation all encourage the release of greenhouse gases, while pesticides can pollute water and soil. Reducing its detrimental effect while increasing crop yield and quality to feed the growing global population is a challenge that needs to be addressed.

This fellowship hopes to encourage innovative solutions to problems like this which are faced by the UK horticulture and potato supply chain, by stimulating an exchange of ideas and knowledge among business, policy makers and academics.

The successful candidates, who will jobshare the fellowship, are Dr Lynda Deeks of Cranfield University and Dr Chantelle Jay of East Malling Research – an organisation working on the interaction of crops with the environment.

The award has been funded as part of the Horticulture and Potato Initiative (HAPI), which was developed by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) together with NERC and the Scottish Government to support innovative projects that will provide solutions to the considerable challenges facing this vital industry.

The HAPI programme will help the horticulture and potato supply chains enhance their competitiveness and resilience to climate change, increase plant resistance to disease and environmental change, and develop more efficient ways of farming.

The fellowship will deliver tangible benefits to business by working with both HAPI project partners and the research community to hasten emerging innovations relevant to the fresh produce sector. This will lead to economic, social and environmental benefits, such as improved resilience to climate change and better food security.

It will also enable business and policy makers to access NERC and BBSRC research investments and capability to address challenges that may affect their long-term economic sustainability and operational risk through environmental change.

NERC will contribute £161,876.40 to the total cost of £221,876.40 (80% FEC) for the fellowship over a period of 36 months and the Horticulture Innovation Partnership have contributed £60,000.

Further funding of a fellowship worth over £104,000 has been awarded to Dr Laura Vickers at Harper Adams University, to work closely with the other  in parts of the industry focused on green infrastructure and ornamentals – flowers that aren’t grown for food.

NERC’s Chief Executive Professor Duncan Wingham said: ‘Securing our food supply while reducing farming’s environmental impact is one of the key challenges facing society. Initiatives like this are a sign of NERC’s commitment to working in partnership to find solutions to these challenges.’

The horticulture sector is an important component of UK food security. It provides 60% of all vegetables eaten in this country and 95% of all potatoes (excluding processed frozen products), while the horticulture industry contributes £9b each year to the UK economy and employs around 300,000 people.