Nicola Harrison  -  Mapping out a green growth strategy for UK horticulture

The Food Chain Scholarship
Worshipful Company of Fruiterers

My career so far has been varied but always centred around research. I have been very fortunate to have been able to combine my passion for plants with research during my Ph.D at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, where in my spare time I learnt the art and skills of grafting fruit trees. After my studies, my growing interest in fruit crops led to a research position at East Malling Research (now NIAB EMR), where I developed a programme of research on fruit tree rootstocks and root development. I was also able to indulge in another passion of mine, which is building renovation through the refurbishment of the National Rhizolab Facility, a belowground laboratory for the study of fruit tree root systems that are actively growing in the soil, achieved through underground access windows.

During my time at NIAB EMR, my interests broadened to the wider horticultural sector and how research funds and industry research contributions could be used more effectively. This led to my current position as a senior scientist for horticulture with AHDB where, amongst other things, I manage the protected edibles research portfolio. I have been privileged in this role to meet and work with some of our most innovative horticultural leaders to develop our thinking around the food systems of the future, which provided me with the motivation to apply for this Nuffield scholarship.

I am very grateful to both The Worshipful Company of Fruiterers (who have also been very supportive during my early career and funded my first ever research project in horticulture) and the Food Chain Scholarship for jointly sponsoring my Nuffield project.

The title of my scholarship is ‘Mapping out a green growth strategy for UK horticulture’ and my aim is to create an ambitious, yet realistic, future-focused green growth strategy for UK horticulture to achieve economic growth, whilst ensuring the sustainable use of natural capital and ecosystem services.

As an industry, our ultimate goal must be to quickly arrive at our ‘end point’, which is embodied in environmentally and financially sustainable, efficient and profitable food production systems. To achieve this aim, the green growth strategy will focus on three key areas that are interdependent in the food production systems of the future:

1. Achieving climate-neutral crop production – Examination of ‘responsible innovation’: removal of dependency on fossil fuels; reduce energy demand by increasing energy efficiency; and opportunities for carbon capture, usage and storage.

2. Optimised growing – Integration of complex biological systems with advanced ‘clean’ technologies and bioengineering for optimal crop performance, including learning from organic approaches for future conventional production with reduced access to crop chemistry.

3. Integration of circular economy thinking – Identification of the opportunities to build Circular Economy thinking into horticultural crop production systems using case studies.

This green growth strategy will help inform future horticultural business ambitions and direct strategic research priority areas for the horticultural sector.