Is industry attracting enough young scientists?

September 28, 2009
Written by Gary Jones
It hardly seems five minutes since the industry descended on Toronto for last year’s national get-together (Canadian Greenhouse Conference), yet here we are again! Bob and Donna Cobbledick and their faithful organizing team will have once again “bust a gut” all year to set up another wonderful selection of pre-conference tours, great conference speakers, a fantastic array of exhibitors, and other new and fun ways to meet colleagues and learn about this terrific industry.

Back in June, under the oversight of the International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS), Drs. Martine Dorais (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) and André Gosselin (Centre de Recherche en Horticulture at Université Laval) co-chaired the organizing committees for “GreenSys 2009,” an international symposium on technology for greenhouse systems. Nice result it was, too – kudos to everyone involved!

Conferences like the CGC and GreenSys increasingly reflect the global nature of the greenhouse industry and call upon experts from across the world to present results of their research and development work to be applied in industry. Take a look at the program of speakers for this year’s CGC, and see how many are from overseas (hint – about 25 per cent of the presentations are international speakers, if one includes the U.S. as being overseas!). With similar facilities and growing techniques, there are good opportunities to collaborate and exchange ideas with colleagues abroad. Ultimately, we each need to have information to share. Since this is based primarily on the government-funded research undertaken in each nation, it is imperative that governments take a long-term view of their research priorities for food production.

Since the early 1990s (when I left the U.K. Advisory Service), British horticultural research and development has been scrutinized by several “reviews.” The latest identifies a number of key issues, including:

Changes in policy with successive governments.

Insufficient co-ordination between funding bodies.

Aging research facilities.

Lack of funding security (especially affecting multi-year projects). 

Loss of key staff (particularly through retirement), with little or no succession planning. 

Some of these are not as significant here in Canada as in the U.K. or other nations such as the U.S. Canada can be rightfully proud of its recent investment in new research facilities – take a look at Harrow Research Centre or the new greenhouse complex at the University of Laval, which are second to none. But clearly there are some parallels. You can probably think of some that affect you directly, whether you are a researcher, extension person, educator or “end-user” of “R&D” work.

Of perhaps the greatest long-term concern is the dearth of bright young scientists willing to enter an uncertain career path of horticultural research. Just as growers find it difficult to recruit new blood into the industry, so too the route to becoming the next great horticultural scientist is not for the faint-hearted; it’s not the most “sexy” of career aspirations for high school graduates (or what their parents want them to do!). The depth of experience and knowledge of Canadian researchers is very impressive, with many recognized as worldwide leaders in their fields of expertise. But over time, they will all retire … and what then?

There are some young, eager minds out there, passionate about developing food security for Canada as a priority. This means developing entomologists, pathologists, economists, soil scientists and all the other “-ists” that we bring together in that wonderful meld of art and science we call horticulture. But they cannot do this on a charity basis.

The new five-year agriculture plan (Growing Forward, part 2) might go some way to providing at least some security for those researchers fortunate enough to have projects built into the program. But seriously, is five years really “long-term” planning for securing the food supply of the nation? Without committed and adequately funded research, the future of our food supply hangs in the balance. Can we afford that?

When you look at the speaker program for the Canadian Greenhouse Conference in five years’ time, take a look at how many young speakers are graciously bringing us the results of their work.

Gary Jones is Chair of Production Horticulture at Kwantlen University, Langley, B.C. He sits on several industry committees and would welcome comments at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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