AHDB has revealed proposals to move to a new model where potato storage research is commissioned rather than completed in-house.
Currently, AHDB’s storage research is conducted at its in-house Sutton Bridge Crop Storage Research (SBCSR) facility near Spalding, Lincolnshire.
Rob Clayton, strategy director, potatoes at AHDB says a number of research tenders will be launched on the open market. “Depending on the quality of tender responses we receive, this summer will see storage experiments taking place at external research institutes alongside activity at Sutton Bridge Crop Storage Research.
“We plan to monitor the performance carefully so that, over a period of time, we can begin to move to a new model where storage research is commissioned rather than completed in-house. We plan for this to happen in a staged way and AHDB will continue to deliver storage research findings, resources and advice to the industry in the long term.
“The team at Sutton Bridge have been informed of the board’s decision, and are being supported by our HR team and senior AHDB staff.”
Difficulties in accessing external research funding, attracting scientific talent due to SBCSR’s remote location and justifying the personnel for activities such as writing and managing bids and other overhead-type tasks are cited by AHDB as reasons for the change.
Ray Andrews, managing director of potato storage consultants, Crop Systems says AHDB’s announcement that it is consulting on the future of the SBCR station, and on potato storage research more broadly, should worry UK potato growers.
“Too many people in the sector still seem unaware this is happening, so we risk sleep-walking into an uncertain future.
“The excellence of Sutton Bridge’s work is recognised right around the world.
“Completing all major research into such a complex subject on one site means it has a unique synergy and level of co-ordination that cannot be achieved if the work were split between multiple sites, no matter how excellent those individual sites may be.”
Bridgnorth, Shropshire-based potato grower Andrew Digwood says: “There are probably some good people out there who could do storage research and are doing it and if they can get the funding, would be prepared to do more of it but it is always good to have a dedicated body of people doing it and devoting all their time to it.
“If others are doing it and they are not dedicated to working for AHDB it will come down to money and if money is a bit tight they may not do it as well as AHDB.”