28 May 1999

HDC keeps UK competitive

As veg growers prepare to

cast their votes for the

future of the Horticultural

Development Council, we

find out why one its most

vigorous supporters thinks it

must be maintained

INCREASING pressure from a global supply of quality vegetable imports means UK growers must remain committed to a long-term research and development programme, maintains Lincs veg packer Marshalls of Butterwick.

Research and development has benefited its business and those of its growers and will be needed more than ever to stay competitive.

Having pioneered the pre-packing of fresh vegetables in the 1950s, the company now has a turnover of £23m. "Our own European business is growing very fast, but as a national industry we are not aggressive enough in Europe," says production director Phillip Effingham.

"The UK is market leader in terms of quality, production techniques and integrated crop management. But Holland, Germany, France, Spain and Italy are catching up. These countries are looking very closely at our vegetable industry."

British is best

About 15 years ago, Dutch was everything. Now British is best. But all that will change as Europe looks to adopt similar marketing systems to the UK, he says.

Within the next 10 years the UK, along with the rest of Europe, will be competing for global markets. To be part of that bigger movement the UK must further develop production techniques, improve quality standards and fine-tune its cost structure, he says.

"One of the cornerstones of Marshalls success is that we have taken research and development by the scruff of the neck and are making it work for us. It is our lifeline, particularly with government funding under constant review," Mr Effingham says.

He is convinced the research and development carried out by the HDC over the last decade has helped ensure the UK vegetable industry is at the leading edge of technology.

HDC grower panels ensure innovation is brought forward and serve large and small growers alike. "Marshalls has several small grower suppliers and it is crucial their needs are met. Disbanding the HDC would result in the larger growers funding R&D for themselves with smaller growers missing out on the benefits."

The HDC also recognises the significant emphasis European countries put on environmental issues. "Our ideas have been forwarded along with others through the appropriate crop associations. In areas such as the judicious use of pesticides on lower input systems, the Brassica Growers Association has spearheaded the direction of research, and the appropriate funding has been provided by the HDC," says Mr Effingham. &#42

Marshalls of Butterwick

In addition to packing grower-produced vegetables for the pre-pack market, Marshalls grows over 4450ha (11,000 acres) of its own produce, including 1460ha (3600 acres) of cauliflower, 1820ha (4500 acres) of broccoli, 1010ha (2500 acres) of minor crops, and 240ha (600 acres) of brussels sprouts, plus leeks and cabbage.

Year-round continuity of supply is achieved by growing crops in Lincs and Cornwall, and through developing European growing partnerships, particularly in Spain and Italy.

"Most of the winter cauliflower production takes place in Cornwall, while the broccoli is grown in Spain," says Mr Effingham. "We operate a mix-and-match policy, which means if we cant produce it locally due to weather constraints, we grow it abroad. During the winter we export UK-produced vegetables to Scandinavia, and import out-of-season produce from Spain and Italy."

That strategy has given Marshalls a 50% increase in turnover since 1992. Mr Effingham anticipates similar growth over the next five years.

HDCVEGR&D

&#8226 Five-year review.

&#8226 Voting 9 Jun.

&#8226 £1m/yr veg R&D, 50% on crop protection, of which 25% ICM/biocontrol.

&#8226 £285,000 on SOLAs.

&#8226 Maintains UKs competitive edge.