02 May 2018

Commercial Horticulture Undergraduates Collaborate With Leading Companies on Research Projects

By Philip Orrell

04 - Hadlow College Commercial Hort visit - Tozer Seeds web

Our unique Commercial Horticulture BSc and FdSc programmes offer undergraduates the opportunity to undertake numerous collaborative research projects with leading specialist growers, breeders and distributors.

Our year two undergraduate students recently visited Tozer Seeds, The UK's largest independent vegetable breeder, to discuss their involvement in a Brassica breeding programme, with the research forming part of their practical sessions. The project - co-ordinated by lecturer and Head of Faculty for Horticulture, Alan Harvey, with Tozer’s R&D department - allows a crop to be grown under glass over winter with minimal input, making it a relatively economical crop, but with maximum gains. The group was shown around Tozer’s facilities by Dr. Jamie Claxton, Director of Plant Breeding and Dr Frances Gawthrop, Director of Research & Development.

Another collaborative research project sees students working with Global Plant Genetics, a unique company with a specialist focus on asparagus, berry and grape rootstock crops. An industry placement working with co-owner of the business Jamie Petchell (a Hadlow Commercial Horticulture graduate), it will assess varieties grown outdoors, leading to a dissertation. This will be a long-term trial of approximately 5 years to gather meaningful data, with assessment based on total yield, weight, size and Brix content.

BSc and FdSc students can also apply for the prestigious Thanet Earth Fellowship or Pepper Champion placements: 8-month paid positions with Thanet Earth, managing their large-scale variety trials on tomatoes and peppers in the College’s glasshouses.

Applying students must undergo a rigorous interview process with a panel consisting of Thanet Earth’s Technical Director and NPD Manager, Hadlow lecturers and previous fellowship students. Once selected, they work closely with the technical and commercial teams at Thanet and various high profile stakeholders to carry out the trials and feed the appropriate information back.

The award-winning project involves careful management of the glasshouse technical systems at Hadlow, with training and mentoring from specialists at Thanet Earth, enabling the students to gain a detailed insight into commercial horticulture, which complements their course content.

Rob James, Technical Director at Thanet Earth, said: “This Fellowship has become a key part of our long term innovation strategy at Thanet Earth. It’s proven very effective as a route to market for new varieties, and it’s had the additional benefit of nurturing mutually beneficial relationships between the science community, education and horticulture. With Hadlow College we’ve helped to join the dots and to generate local partnerships that drive momentum for new projects.”

The students are responsible for numerous plants of different varieties, keeping detailed records of each variety’s performance and yield, assessing vigour, size, susceptibility to disease, and most importantly, taste - all important points of difference for retail buyers. Ultimately, the students make recommendations to the team about the most commercially-promising opportunities, with the ultimate reward of seeing their varieties on the supermarket shelves.