Pershore College Q&A
Pershore College has a long tradition in horticultural training as one of the top horticultural centres in the UK. We caught up with Prof. Roy Kennedy, Professor in Agri-Tech Research & Development at Pershore College to find out more about the innovation behind Agri-Tech, and the exciting developments happening within our county.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
I am a plant pathologist by training. I did my doctorate at Sydney University at the end of the 1980's, which involved investigating diseases of citrus. From there, I spent time at Reading University and Rothamsted Research before getting a permanent research position at Horticulture Research International investigating diseases of vegetable, flowers and fruit.
I then moved to Warwick University before becoming Head of Dept at Worcester University at the pollen centre. I was always interested in Horticulture so when the opportunity came up to set up a new agricultural/horticultural technology centre at Pershore I was more than happy to come to WCG Pershore College (as their first Professorial appointment).
Tell us a little bit about your role at Pershore College
Pershore is situated in the Vale of Evesham so if you want to work in horticultural research in the UK, Pershore is the place to do it. Pershore has a long track record in horticultural training and with the development of new technologies based on digital technologies there was a big job to do training new horticulturalists for the future.
My role at Pershore involved working on the development of new horticultural courses. Alongside several grants which we’ve been awarded, we also work with big horticultural companies such as Berry Gardens (the largest strawberry producer in the UK).
Tell us a little bit more about horticulture at Pershore College
Pershore has a programme which includes full degrees (B.Sc. Hons) in horticulture. It has extensive apple orchards and is situated on grade one horticultural land (Evesham Soil Series). Pershore College runs its own garden centre and horticultural nursery and has a juicing unit which makes apple/pear juice and cider.
In the last 2 - 3 years, Pershore has opened an Agri-tech centre where there are several horticultural technologies on display which are promoting sustainability. These link to the provision of a new degree course on Agri-tech where these technologies form part of the course at Foundation degree level.
How is Pershore College innovative?
Pershore College has opened an Agri-tech Centre which will combine state-of-the-art equipment with laboratory and demonstrator facilities and be used in the FdSc. Agri-tech course.
Worcestershire LEP has identified the Agri-tech and Agri-food sectors as being key to the future growth of the economy in the local area and this facility will enable us to contribute to that growth by educating the current and future workforce, as well as supporting the industry more broadly.
The objectives for the Agri-tech Centre is innovation, specifically the creation of a facility that will develop and demonstrate accessible, portable and scalable Agri-tech to:
- Inspire new young entrants into the sector using Agri-tech to challenge existing perceptions of the horticulture sector.
- Feed more technology literate young people into the industry by creating a new Horticulture Technology & Innovation suite of programmes, full-time and apprenticeships, and embedding technology in all existing programmes.
- Expose growers to technology solutions that can improve resource use, efficiency and modernise their business.
- Improve the efficiency and effectiveness of businesses by the application of Agri-tech via project based learning
What is the Agri-tech Agenda? And what does this mean for the future?
The change from analogue technology to digital technology has led to the miniaturisation of equipment and facilitated a revolution in mobile connectivity. Many of these approaches form the basis of artificial intelligence and robotics and have led to the possibility of driverless cars.
These technologies can be used in horticulture and agriculture to reduce inputs and costs. The UK has the potential to be a world leader in this future of agricultural technology, sustainability and innovation but its success is dependent on securing the appropriate skills and capabilities and in attracting the right talent and expertise into the industry.
What is the positive impact of the Agri-tech Agenda for the future of horticulture?
Pershore College has embarked on a fresh, dynamic journey to meet the demands of our new world and support key national priorities in food sustainability through the delivery of skills, education and training.
Inspiring the next generation into careers in horticulture and delivering courses to enhance existing career paths for employees are vital for the college. We want to support our employers with access to cutting edge research, innovation and a skilled workforce. A visible landmark of this change is the college’s £5.8m new build. This provides students with an innovative, technologically enhanced environment to inspire everyone to focus on horticulture and Agri-tech as industries offering exciting career prospects and meeting the skills shortages within the sector.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the strawberry research project at Pershore College?
The strawberry research project was funded by Innovate UK. It focuses on reducing wastage in strawberry production. Reducing fungal fruit rot is a priority in strawberry production in the UK, where annual economic losses due to fungal rotting are usually between £30M to £60M.
Rot is mainly caused by Botrytis cinerea, Mucor spp. and Rhizopus spp., with their relative prevalence varying over time and growing site. Most strawberry production in the UK is under protection where the risk of fungal rot largely depends on the pathogen’s presence and abundance, and the availability of susceptible tissues.
This project will develop a device for semi-automatic quantification of multiple airborne strawberry pathogens and establish the relationship of both pre- and post-harvest rot risks with the quantified inoculum level. The research aims to help extend the marketable shelf life of individual strawberry lots and reduce fruit waste which will directly benefit local growers.
How important is sustainability for Pershore College?
Agriculture has been a ‘Cinderella’ sector of the economy for decades, marginalised for 100 years by the growth of the industrial sector and then for the past 20-30 years by the extraordinary growth of the technology and financial services sector. Yet this economic backwater underpins the smooth functioning of all societies on the planet. Agriculture has historically been the most complex and important of mankind's interactions with nature, and it has been the focus and the facilitator of many of our species’ greatest social and scientific achievements.
The effects of climate change will exacerbate the stresses on crop plants, potentially leading to dramatic yield reductions. Maintaining and enhancing the diversity of crop genetic resources is vital to facilitate crop breeding and thereby enhance the resilience of food crop production. Addressing these constraints requires technologies and approaches that are underpinned by good science. Some of these technologies build on existing knowledge, while others are completely radical approaches, drawing on genomics and high-throughput analysis.
Only specialised research, development and teaching will address these problems. Pershore Colleges can address these issues specifically for the Vale of Evesham helping it to maintain sustainability and profitability for the longer term as part of a knowledge base.
How can people find out more?
You can follow Pershore College on Twitter: @PershoreColWCG or visit our website at www.wcg.ac.uk/pershore
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