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Grower of the year award for LEC honorary research fellow

Rob Jacobson of RJC Ltd, an honorary research fellow at Lancaster University has won the Grower of the Year award. An award that celebrates the best examples of business excellence, innovation, technical expertise and personal achievement within UK horticulture production.

For many years, conventional season tomato crops have been grown with minimal pesticide inputs using advanced integrated pest management (IPM) programmes and bumble bees for pollination. Prior to the start of this project, supplies of home-grown glasshouse produce were only available between late January and October, leaving a winter gap to be filled by produce from southern Europe.

These crops were dependent on intensive pesticide applications to supply produce of the quality demanded by UK retailers. This resulted in an increased potential risk of chemical residues being detected in tomatoes on supermarket shelves during the winter period.

As a consequence, retailers encouraged UK growers to develop methods of producing tomatoes throughout the winter using artificial lighting when natural light is limiting. The continued use of IPM and biological pollination were fundamentally important to the commercial success of AYR tomato production in the UK.

Over a two year HDC-funded programme RJC Ltd developed a new whitefly control programme based on the predatory bug, Macrolophus caliginosus, rather than the parasitic wasps which are traditionally used. This incorporated a new low-cost method of boosting predator numbers in mature crops for harvest and redistribution to new crops. In addition, they incorporated a new method of culling predator populations at critical times.

The Macrolophus-based IPM programme had knock-on benefits for the control of other pests, including leafminers, spider mites and caterpillars. The cost of this programme in inter-planted AYR crops was half that incurred by the average Tomato Working Party member in conventional season crops in 2006. This represented a saving of up to £4,650 per hectare per year compared to data provided by Finnish consultants.

The Science into Practice category celebrates the successful application of research to a commercial business. It is awarded to the organisation which, in the opinion of the judges, has brought innovation through research into profitable practice within the growing community. The judges' were impressed that the implementation of the new IPM and biological pollination strategies happened in parallel to the experimentation. This meant that the financial benefits became available to the partners during the project and the payback was immediate. This short payback time is believed to represent unprecedented speed for publicly funded research.

Rob Jacobson explained "Winning this award was the proudest moment of my career. The project team helped to satisfy the needs of the major food retailers and made an important contribution to the economic viability of the British tomato industry".

Rob Jacobson is a member of the Tomato Growers' Association Technical Committee and Secretary of the Cucumber Growers' Association and has been actively involved with crop protection for over 30 years. He is an honorary research fellow of Lancaster University and a regular contributor to the Waitrose training programmes delivered by Lancaster.

Fri 01 May 2009