HRI at 50

David Gray sent some scanned images
of a 50yr document
which Nexus produced
(they produced The Grower magazine ) 

With thanks to David Wurr for turning the jpg's into text
  1. Legacy of the Black Hut
  2. Legacy of the Black Hut (continued)
  3. Landmarks at Wellesbourne
  4. Landmarks at Wellesbourne (continued)
  5. A Leader's vision
  6. The next 50 years

Page 1: Legacy of the Black Hut
The single largest horticultural research                     A canteen at mid-day and a library and meeting
establishment in the world owes its existence to        room at other times, the Black Hut, as the shed
many factors but two early developments were           became known, must have had few comforts to
crucial.                                                                   recommend it; access from the main road was via a                
                                                                              muddy bridle path, heating came from a paraffin           
The first was the creation in 1913 of the East             stove, light from a paraffin lamp and water from
            Malling Research Association, dedicated to R&D               a well.
            in fruit production. The second was the setting
            up 36 years later of the National Vegetable                        But whatever their privations, Philp and his
            Research Station.                                                           successors created an institution with an                                      
                                                                                                 unrivalled reputation in its field. Over the              
            These institutions were to become two pillars of                 years its reputation has grown as has its
            today's Horticulture Research International.                       physical presence. Today Wellesboume is head-                                 
                                                                                                 quarters for a world-renowned R&D resource.               
            The NVRS began life 50 years ago in 1949 on 113ha
            of land at Wellesbourne, near Coventry in                         The rationale for a vegetable research station
            Warwickshire. Incorporated as the `British                        evolved towards the end of the second world war
            Society for the Promotion of Vegetable Research'              with the increasing conviction that more
            its grand title belied the reality of the                                 efficient methods of vegetable production were
            establishment - a six-strong workforce and a                     essential. MAFF, the Scottish Agricultural
            collection of old farm buildings.                                         Advisory Council and the Agricultural Research        
                                                                                                 Council agreed and sanctioned a new station to            
            It was in the following year that a purpose-built                  co-ordinate the research.
            shed was erected to serve as office for the
            Station's first director, Dr James Philp.                             The NVRS undoubtedly owed its initial success to
            He shared his humble accommodation with the one           the choice of director. A scientist of the old
            researcher, one secretary, one typist and two                    school, James Philp was the undisputed chief who
            farm workers who made up his staff.                                 was capable of upbraiding scientists in his
                                                                                                 charge if their ties were askew, even if they
                                                                                                 were working in the field at the time!

                                                                                                 His term lasted 19 years and it says much for his
                                                                                                 foresight that during the 1950's the

Page 2: Legacy of the Black Hut (continued)
Station instigated the concept of using                     This coincided with the decision to set up two
statistical data as a research tool, the famous           levy-raising bodies, the Horticultural
Genstat concept. His two successors, Professors     Development Council and the Apple & Pear Research
Denley Wnght and John (the 'Baron') Bleasdale,        Council.
continued in the same vein, guiding generations
 of researchers towards some remarkable                  Subsequently several MAFF experimental stations
            breakthroughs that established the Station's                       were closed. The three remaining ones -
            pre-eminence in the world of vegetable                               Stockbridge House, Kirton and Efford - were then
            advancement.                                                                  merged with the three research stations into HRI
                                                                                                  and in 1990 Professor Chris Payne was appointed
            It was not long after the site was established                      its chief executive. ln 1995 the scheduled
            that building work began. Even the exceptional                   closure of the GCRI site took place.
            Phelp could not be expected to tackle all the
            problems of vegetable production from the Black                 At that point the modem HRI was established as
            Hut.                                                                                the world-beating R&D organisation it is today.
                                                                                                  Its first-class laboratory, glasshouse and
            Many of the site?s core buildings went up between              controlled environment facilities are manned by
            1953 and 1955 but it was not until 1959 when the               over 700 scientists, technicians and support
            Prince Philip Building was opened that the NVRS               staff. Between 1991 and 1997 the Government
            was equipped with modern laboratory facilities.                   committed UKP 44 million to a major building and
                                                                                                  restructuring programme.
            Additional laboratory space was added in the
            early l970's with the opening of the David Lowe                   At the heart of this establishment lies
            Building. This housed plant pathology, crop                        Wellesbourne. Today 50 years on, the site not
            physiology and weed science departments.                        only provides HRI with its headquarters but
                                                                                                  international resources like base collections of
            Building continued until the late 1980's when the                Allium and Brassica with secure accommodation.
            'near market' cuts in Government science funding               Wellesbourne is also the headquarters of HRI's
            saw a substantial withdrawal of public finance                    commercial arm, HortiTech.
            from horticultural R&D. It was then that the
            decision was taken to amalgamate the AFRC                    In its fiftieth year Wellesboume has welcomed a
            horticultural establishments (NVRS, East Malling,              new chief executive of HRI, Professor Michael
            the Glasshouse Crops Research Institute in West              Wilson. He is as determined as any-one that the
            Sussex and the Wye hop unit) into the Institute                  next 50 years will be as productive and rewarding
            of Horticultural Research. The IHR's first and                      for the industry and the country as the last.
            only director was ProfessorTerry Swinburne.

Page 3: Landmarks at Wellesbourne
    In the 50 years since it opened for
    business, scientists at Wellesbourne have
    been responsible for a raft of landmark
    breakthroughs in field vegetables. Here
    are some of the most important.

            During the 1950s                                                          During the 1960's (cont.)
          ? the principles of irrigation timing to                                  ? data provided on pentanochlor, propachlor,
            optimise application established                                        chorpropham and trifluralin
          ? the GENSTAT statistical package concept                         for label and SOLA recommendations
            initiated                                                                        ? chemical herbicides emerge to facilitate
          ? the cause of silvering in red beet                                        new bed systems which in turn lead  to
            identified                                                                          improved yields and size control by plant
          ? the causal fungus in watercress crook rot                           density
            identified                                                                       ? cauliflower scheduling systems developed
          ? data for label recommendations for                                  ? novel systems of potato production using
            simazine in beans and trietazine/simazine                          plant density concepts established
            in peas provided                                                             ? first hybrid vegetable varieties -
                                                                                                   Fl hybrid sprouts
                                                                                                ? Avon range of varieties - most notably
            During the 1960's                                                            Avondefiance and Avoncrisp lettuce with
          ? transmission of lettuce big vein by fungal                            downy mildew and root aphid resistance ?
            vector demonstrated                                                          released
          ? the thiram soak technique for seed-borne                         ? dieldrin replaced by chlorfenvinphos for
            disease established                                                          carrot fly control; first resistance to aldrin
          ? canker-resistant parsnip  (Avonresister)                              dieldrin and-gamma BHC recorded
            bred                                                                              ? soil moisture-holding characteristics for
                                                                                                   all vegetable soil types in England and
                                                                                                   Wales defined

Page 4: Landmarks at Wellesbourne (continued)
? fertiliser studies - which led to the                                During the 1980's
 introduction of NPK predictor and WELL-N               ? cause of carrot cavity spot identified
 system concepts in the next decade - formulated     ? seed priming technology patented
                                                                             ? starter fertiliser technology developed 
During the 1970's                                                  ? accelerated degradation of carbamat
          ? year-round onion production and onion neck rot                    insecticides recorded
             control methods defined (Granted Queen's Award             ? first forecasts of carrot and cabbage root fly
             for Technological Achievement, 1977)                                 infestations made
           ? granular application of carrot fly control                            ? control methods for brassica dark leaf spot
             insecticides developed                                                       emerge
           ? causes in plant-to-plant variability in crops                       ? seed film coating technique to reduce
             quantified                                                                          pesticide dosing developed
           ? ability of cellulose xanthate to reduce soil                        ? improved tests for seed vigour developed
             capping and improve emergence established
           ? threshold levels of seed-borne inoculum to                        During the 1990's
             control halo blight of beans established                           ? MORPH computer models for fertiliser, P&D,
           ? the function of virulence/avirulence genes for                      maturity and size predictions written
             downy mildew in lettuce - which led to the                       ? diagnostic tests for carrot cavity spot
             selection of mildew  race-resistant varieties                        developed
             for different regions - established                                    ? lettuce big vein successfully controlled
           ? new systemic fungicides to control seed-borne                ? F1 hybrid leeks released
             diseases identified                                                        ? mild-onion germplasm developed
           ? data provided on bentazone, metamitron,                        ? lettuce germplasm with multiple resistance to
             propachlor and chlorthal-dimethyl for label                         downy mildew released
             and SOLA herbicide recommendations                           ? data provided on pendimethalin, pyridate and
                                                                                                  fluroxpyr for label herbicide recommendations

Page 5: A Leader's vision
The new chief executive at Horticulture                      At the same time HRI has to be integrated as an
Research International, Professor Michael                 efficient and effective team. "I have chosen
Wilson, describes himself as "impatient,                   the science to drive that goal. Science is our
wanting results quickly and not suffering fools            business and has to be top quality and
gladly?. His language is peppered with active,            relevant.
progressive verbs and he describes his role as
"catalytic".                                                            "We may have been pursuing some lines for
                                                                                                decades simply because we've always done it.
            He hopes to bring a mixture of vision and                         But if it's not getting anywhere and we're not
            novelty to his leadership of HRI and sees his                    producing tangible outputs then we?re going to
            lack of 'baggage' and history at the                                  have to look at it very hard and make some
            organisation as an asset which will enable him                 extremely tough decisions.
            to keep his "eyes on the horizon".
                                                                                                We must provide answers, novel solutions to
            After a decade of introspection, surviving and                    problems, service the industry, produce high
            reacting to external pressures HRI needs to get                quality concept-leading research and change
            out and proactively shape the world in which it                  peoples' opinions on how things have been
            operates, he believes.                                                     done," he says.

            "HRI has done very well but I believe it can do                   One of his first tasks is to boost the fruit
            a lot better," he says. His vision is to live                          specialist site at East Malling, Kent. A
            up to the last word in the name Horticulture                       business plan to revamp the site is in progress
            Research International. Crucial to that vision                     with the objective of making it - with the
            are the nine heads of research departments with               Warwickshire HQ at Wellesbourne - one of the
            whom he has been extremely impressed. "They are          "twin engines that make the HRI plane fly a bit
            a good team. They need to think of the big                        faster and a bit higher". 
            picture," he says.   Collectively they will
            take over the tasks performed by Professor                      "The engines are not matched at the moment. But
            Wilson when he was, for a short time science                   I don't want to achieve that by taking power
            director.                                                                         out of the other engine. I want more people and
                                                                                                 more money in Kent. "To this end HRI is getting
            He also wants them to take on ambassadorial                   support from Kent County Council and regional
            roles, foraying on behalf of HRI to take part                        development bodies.
            in influential national and international
            committees, review panels and strategic think                 "The new heads of departments are contacting
            tanks, in fact anything which helps research                     the relevant people. I think we now have to go
            resources in HRI?s direction through overseas                   out and push internationally. We've had a lot
            development, European Community funds, BBSRC or        of interest from appropriate organisations
            MAFF funds.                                                                  which could be located here to build up a
                                                                                                 critical mass of research expertise.
            ?HRI is like a coiled spring. It has been
            through a lot of painful decisions,                                    ?That?s not only to deliver research for
            restructurings and consolidation over the last                    problems in the developing world. I'm looking
            decade. It's now poised with new young staff,"                  at links with America as well and Europe. I
            he says.                                                                        think the challenge is to get East Malling
                                                                                                re-tooled and re-skilled." 
            "Our nine heads of research departments are a
            very vital resource. I need to deploy them                         He sees this as a great opportunity. East
            well," he says. ?They must have the space to                   Malling is so well positioned politically and
            operate and the opportunity to do well, to                         geographically. It is close to London and the
            create business and show their leadership                        places where decisions are taken,  
            potential. It will be fascinating to see how
            things shake down after a year or so.?                              All Prof Wilson's words point to an aggressive,
                                                                                                leaner edge to HRI's operations. He says: "We
            It is, he says, an unashamedly "American way?                have to be far more proactive. You can?t just
            of doing things ? something he admired while                   wait for things to drop into your lap these
            leading the development of an advanced                           days?.
            technology centre in New Jersey prior to his
            move to SCRI Dundee, in the he enjoyed in the                "More and more research is being tied to
            US and the way all things seemed to be possible              outputs, performance indicators and to
            there.                                                                            products, patents or publications. It's the

Page 6: The next 50 years
The next 50 years                                               Biotechnology
                                                                          Running alongside its valuable, more
So what does the next 50 years hold in store         traditional work such as pathogen detection,
for Horticulture Research International?                  plant pest and disease control, plant
                                                                          nutrition, seed biology and crop scheduling is
Professor Michael Wilson believes the                   biotechnology. A subtle and precise line of
            world-renowned organisation, boasting the                    scientific enquiry in which HRI has a respected
            largest team of scientists of its kind                              history and boasts a distinguished group of
            anywhere, must become more outward-looking. It          scientists, biotechnology has the potential to
            must pursue funding and strive with                              solve many of the world's problems in
            determination to become a powerful voice on                 environmental and food productivity terms.
            global decision-making bodies in the world of
            horticultural research.                                                  Work is already in place to find, clone and
                                                                                             deploy genes responsible for natural resistance
            SCICOM, the committee made up of the                       to pests and diseases, genes that control plant
            organisation?s nine heads of scientific                            growth and form and genes that can lead to
            departments, is charged with positioning HRI                 improved post-harvest quality in terms of
            even more strongly on the world stage. As part              flavour, texture and nutrition. HRI's programme
            of this process collaboration in various                          will exploit the rapid advances in plant
            projects with top-ranking research                                genomics, developing key vegetable and fruit
            organisations throughout the world is a major                crops.
            goal in HRI?s list of objectives. Already
            HRI/Hortitech has announced a partnership with           HRI's mission is to keep its eyes on the
            bodies in China, a move Professor Wilson hopes          horizon, injecting a mixture of vision and
            to repeat with the USA and Europe.                             novelty into the horticultural industry,
                                                                                            driving innovation and discovering better, more
            Another of SCICOM's key tasks is to maximise            efficient ways of doing things. British growers
            outputs of published papers in international                   are well placed to take advantage of this well
            journals, produce patents and drive other work              of knowledge for the next 50 years.
            which underpins strategic, applied-policy
            driven work for funding bodies.                             

                                                 "We were delighted to celebrate the 50 years of
                                                  existence at the Wellesbourne site with the
                                                  visit by the Minister of Agriculture. It was a
                                                  wonderful endorsement of our efforts. "We have
                                                  every confidence that we will be able to
                                                  deliver leading science for at least the next
                                                   50 years. Morale is excellent."

                                                  Peter Siddall, chairman of the board of HRI

For an Index to the pages, and an Explanation of how to contribute, please  see the Home Page

hefce Previous : HEFCE home Up : HOME International-comparisons Next : INTERNATIONAL COMPARISONS