Funding Cuts Threat to Plant Pest Research; Mushrooming Problems: Centre Plays Vital Role in Study of Horticultural Diseases

Article excerpt

Byline: Sarah Probert

The world's largest horticultural research centre is under threat from Government spending cuts, the president of the National Farmers' Union has warned.

Ben Gill said growers could face future problems mirroring the severity of the foot and mouth crisis if a lack of funding prevented research into pests and diseases.

Mr Gill condemned Whitehall for cutting the funding given to Horticulture Research International in Wellesbourne, Warwickshire, during a visit to the centre.

The unit carries out vital research into pests and diseases as well as looking into ways of reducing use of pesticides and extending the shelf life of vegetables.

Mr Gill, who has launched a 'Keep British horticulture growing' campaign to fight further cuts in funding, told The Birmingham Post: 'If we have further significant cuts in underpinning research, which has been shown to be of such world class status, this will have a dramatic effect on growers.

'If we do not understand the way our food is produced we are not going to solve problems.

'The work being done here is critical to all plants. There is world class science here and this is under threat after millions have been ploughed into the centre in a disorganised way.'

While growers give nearly pounds 4 million in levies to the annual research budget, the Government has cut is contribution by pounds 2 million over the last five years.

More cuts are threatened in the Government's spending review, expected in July.

Prof Michael Wilson, chief executive of the HRI, echoed Mr Gill's concerns.

He said: 'We have 350 staff on this site, but we had 700 a few years ago. We had to close one site in Yorkshire. 'Horticulture and arables are perpetually at risk from pests and diseases and a large proportion of the work we do here is concerned with minimising the damage caused by pests and disease.'

The UK horticulture industry generates a turnover of pounds 2. …