DAERA Management Notes: Horticulture

Dr Geoff Simmons, Lori Hartman and Roy Lyttle discussing vegetable market trends at a recent Vegetable BDG meeting
Dr Geoff Simmons, Lori Hartman and Roy Lyttle discussing vegetable market trends at a recent Vegetable BDG meeting

Amenity Forum: On 9 March 2017 a large number of horticulture professionals from across Northern Ireland attended the Amenity Forum updating event at Greenmount Campus, Antrim.

The Amenity Forum is a UK wide voluntary initiative for the landscape, greenkeeping, sportsturf and grounds maintenance sectors to promote best practice in the management of weeds, pests and diseases.

Attendees heard engaging presentations from a range of industry speakers including Mr Robin Bolton, CAFRE speaking on behalf of the Water Catchment Partnership, Mr Ian Forman of the National Sprayer Testing Scheme (NSTS), Mr John Moverley of the Amenity Forum and Mr Peter Corbett on behalf of BASIS Amenity Register.

The Sustainable Use Directive requires that all pesticide application equipment is tested or inspected. Boom sprayers, air blast sprayers, slug pellet applicators, weed wipers, seed treatment equipment must be formally tested by a NSTS tester. Hand held or pedestrian controlled machines are exempt from testing but should be checked regularly and records maintained. More information on testing is available at www.nsts.org.uk and sprayer checklists on www.voluntaryinitiative.org.uk.

This month the Amenity Forum is launching a survey of the sector across the UK to gather information on the current level of industry awareness and how the Amenity Forum can become a ‘voice for the sector’. This is important as the sector faces increasing restrictions on the use of pesticides and fungicides and the need to develop alternative management strategies is recognised.

The Amenity Forum have also launched a public awareness campaign called ‘Get Moving’ to highlight the link between the work of amenity horticulture professionals and people’s daily lives including maintaining road and rail transport networks, sports fields and recreational areas.

To promote best practice the Amenity Forum has launched an ‘Amenity Spray Operator of the Year Award’ with a prize of a trip to the USA. Entries online at www.amenityforum.co.uk with winners announced at the National Conference in England on 12 October 2017.

The event concluded with a very productive question and answer session with attendees highlighting how different sectors within amenity horticulture faced the same challenges. The Amenity Forum provides an opportunity for these sectors to work together to promote best practice, environmental protection and continued professional development. 

Vegetable Business Development Group (BDG)

Vegetable growers gathered recently to wrap up the first year of the Business Development Group meetings. A popular topic of discussion for this specialised sector has been marketing. Within the vegetable BDG, growers are supplying a range of customer bases including wholesale, distributors, processors and directly into multiple retailers. Regardless of these variants, an understanding of key aspects of marketing can give a grower an edge when selling produce. With that in mind, the Vegetable BDG welcomed Dr Geoff Simmons, Senior Lecturer in Management at Queen’s University Belfast.

Dr Simmons is leading a project aiming to develop the competitiveness of Northern Ireland agri-food firms through market intelligence. Specifically, participating growers can access information about the demographics of people purchasing their products. The goal is to use this data to better inform decisions about product lines, packaging and even future product development. This exciting opportunity has already been taken up by a number of vegetable growers and processors, as well as other agri-food firms.

The group also reflected on the wide variety of routes to market within the vegetable industry in Northern Ireland. While market intelligence from reports such as Dunhumbie and Mintel may seem a far cry from the raw product being supplied to a wholesaler or processor, growers can also access their own market intelligence using social media. In previous meetings the group explored outlets such as Facebook for business purposes. Creating an online presence and bringing the story of commercial horticulture to a wider audience can work very well. This option has beneficial features, called insights, which help organisations access the demographics of their online audience.

Clearly there are tools available for growers at every scale to improve marketing. We look forward to continued work in this area as we move into the second year of BDGs.