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Is industry attracting enough young scientists?


September 28, 2009
By Gary Jones

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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.

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!

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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 Gary.Jones@Kwantlen.ca.


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