Headline news that UK supermarkets are rationing sales of fresh produce after bad weather hit supplies from southern Europe highlights the critical role of applied horticulture research focused on improving home-grown production, according to Professor Mario Caccamo, the newly appointed MD of Kent-based NIAB EMR.
“As the UK prepares for a future outside the EU Single Market, these short-term concerns over availability provide a timely reminder that the UK is only 50 per cent self-sufficient in fresh produce,” he said.
“There is a major opportunity for UK growers to increase market share through import substitution, and there has never been a greater need for innovative, industry-facing R&D in the horticulture sector to drive improved yields, quality, seasonality and production efficiency.”
Professor Caccamo added that while UK investment in applied horticultural research had been neglected for decades, with the loss of many research facilities in the sector, there were now encouraging signs that its strategic economic importance was increasingly recognised.
“Through the Agri-Tech Strategy and other policy initiatives, the UK Government has signalled its ambition for the UK to be a world leader in agri-food R&D.
“At the same time, a rapidly advancing knowledge-base in plant genetics, agronomy, precision engineering and data science is opening up exciting new opportunities for innovation.
“As part of the UK’s fastest growing crop science organisation, a newly revitalised NIAB EMR is uniquely placed to harness these opportunities and provide the research solutions to support a progressive, resilient and internationally competitive UK fresh produce sector,” said Professor Caccamo.
East Malling Research was acquired by NIAB in February 2016. Professor Caccamo, who leads NIAB’s expanding bioinformatics and agri-data activities, takes over as managing director from current MD David Neill in April 2017.
David Neill will return to his previous position as NIAB’s Chief Operating Officer after overseeing the introduction of operational and organisational changes to maintain income growth and secure NIAB EMR’s position as an international leader in applied horticulture research.