It’s a successful sixth year for the Discovery Fellowship partnership which is a joint venture between Hadlow College and Thanet Earth.
It may now be in its sixth year, but there’s nothing predictable about the variety trials we undertake at Hadlow College.
After a competitive pitch process, a second year student from the college’s BSc Commercial Horticulture course is selected to take on our paid Discovery Fellowship challenge. This year the Discovery Fellowship for tomatoes was awarded to Guy Johnson.
Guy has been responsible for planting, tending, maintaining and harvesting a greenhouse of some 540 tomato plants.
He has had to learn about today’s software-led greenhouse management tools and kept a constant watch over the system to ensure the trials greenhouse is at the correct temperature and that food and water are applied as directed. Starting back in February, Guy was given intensive training in the greenhouses at Thanet Earth with grower Addy Breugem to learn how to spot issues, how to control the environment around the plants and how to get the best from the vines.
This isn’t easy, with over 80 different tomato varieties growing in the same greenhouse. They’re new, untested varieties and are therefore unpredictable in their habits. Guy has had to apply everything he’s learnt to get the best results. On top of this, Guy had to present the promising varieties to seed company representatives and to our retail customers who may select preferred new options for commercial production.
A second student was selected to run variety trials for peppers at Hadlow College too. This is a smaller scale trial programme, but still key to our new variety research. Now in its fourth year the pepper project was passed to another BSc Commercial Horticulture student, Richard Briggs. Richard undertook similar training, this time with Tomasz Krause from Rainbow Growers, the pepper specialists at Thanet Earth.
Both greenhouses performed extremely well through a long season, cropping effectively well into October. Both students proved that they were more than up to the challenge, showing a level of dedication to the project that would be draining to all but the most committed.
Sally Channon is the New Product Development Coordinator at Thanet Earth. Herself a Hadlow College graduate and ex-Fellowship student she knows exactly how difficult it is to complete these placements. “I’ve been working with Guy and Richard through this season, helping to make sure they have exactly what they need in support and that they could organise their time in this work really effectively. I know they don’t really get a day off – they’re always having to check in to the greenhouse systems to make sure everything’s running smoothly. And even just one weekend away from the greenhouse can leave you having to work extra hard to catch up on the day to day work. It’s definitely more of a lifestyle choice than a job, but the students have found it a very rewarding process.”
This Fellowship partnership with Hadlow College is an award-winning scheme with great benefits for both partners. The Hadlow students on the Commercial Horticulture course benefit from the technical expertise and from the experience of managing a greenhouse on a commercial scale. Thanet Earth provides the horticultural inputs and the young plants, along with a significant amount of training and mentoring.
This programme is leading the way for partnerships between commerce and education. It’s ensuring that the next crop of graduates are best prepared for the reality of an exciting career in production horticulture. The challenges of providing a sustainable way of feeding a growing population with healthy food choices grow ever more pressing but with students like Guy, Richard and their colleagues in training then it’s clear that Hadlow College is embracing the opportunity with relevant and industry-leading teaching.