The conference was kicked off by the CIH President Dr Owen Doyle, welcoming delegates and discussing the many advantages that horticulture can facilitate for heath, social and financial benefits.  Dr Doyle highlighted that one of the main reasons why the industry struggles to recruit is due a lack of knowledge of what horticulture is.

Chair of the conference, David Domoney was welcomed to the stage and shared this passion and enthusiasm for horticulture and the industry. He went on to introduce the first speaker of the day, Helen King, who discussed Future Trends and Planning for a Healthy Business.

Highlighting that we are increasingly moving towards an aging population, Helen King explained that we need to look at trends to provide inspiration for innovation in her talk, Future Trends and Planning for a Healthy Business. Shared experiences are a symbol of a life well lived, and people want free experiences rather than possessions. Health and well-being was also discussed as proactive prevention (targeting future diseases); essential purity and the pursuit of happiness (making healthy choices to be and feel better) all contribute to personal growth and all-round health.  Finally, responsible living was explored and summed up, with Helen stating that she wants to make better choices that make a difference, without having to compromise. Helen concluded by reminding delegates to ensure someone in their business is responsible for exploring up and coming trends and planning how these can be implemented into their businesses.

Second was Mark Rendell, with his talk Designer, Dandelions and Dementia: what can happen when you ask a simple question? Opening with the figure 40% of people who enter care never step out again, Mark went on to explain that this was the premise of his research as to why care home gardens aren’t used more actively. When visiting one of the care homes, he questioned why there were ‘weeds’ in the garden to which they were told that they were helpful to the residents.  It wasn’t until he witnessed an exchange between a mother with dementia and her visiting daughter that they understood the significance. Upon receiving a buttercup, the mother immediately lifted her chin to test whether she liked butter – a childhood game which still had a place in her memory.  As a designer you must sometimes design imperfect gardens to allow residents to get involved in the process. However, within the care setting there are two hidden dangers, overdesigning the space and taking the care setting backwards. Mark concluded that you must be prepared to challenge and change what you do and how you do it.

You are what you eat, the microbiome and health was next to be discussed. Fiona Crispie gave the delegates an insight into what microbiomes are, and how these micro-organisms contribute to our wellbeing and health. Fiona explained that eating foods containing live organisms might affect our microbiome through colonisation or establishment of these micro-organisms in the gut, which led to the question what else could affect our microbiome. After an in-depth case study comparing athletes to two different control groups with various BMIs, Fiona concluded that there was a higher diversity of gut microbiota in athletes, and clear separation of microbial communities between athletes and controls. She also noted that increasing protein intake and exercise levels correlates with increased diversity. Bringing this into context with the theme of the conference, the safety of GM crops was raised with effects on soil microbiome and on host microbiome following consumption as well as antibiotic resistance transfer and fungicide/ insecticide resistance studies.

Exploring plans for the future in a changing environment, Caroline Elliott-Kingston noted how the rising CO2 levels in the outdoor environment has a knock-on effect on the indoor environment, thus affecting plant function. When there is more CO2 for the plants to process, the more they function, and they reduce the number of stomata (breathing pores). By doing so, they can gain the same amount of energy, but lose less water in the process. This begs the question how the reduction of stomata is affecting the quality of our post-harvest process. Does it affect the appearance, texture, flavour or shelf-life? 355 million tonnes of food are wasted during post-harvesting process and storage. When this waste biodegrades, the plants then release all the CO2 back into the atmosphere, which could impact food safety. Caroline raised the points that for future development we need to trial what growing practices will trigger stomatal closure before or at harvest, and amend growing practices to minimise water loss and improve food safety. She also noted that species and cultivars which naturally have fewer stomata or more responsive stomata need to be identified.

After lunch James Simpson discussed English top fruit: breeding, growing and marketing. As managing director of Adrian Scripps, James ensures that the business keeps things simple and do them well. Adrian Scripps has a history of reduction of labour, with simple systems done well on a large scale. They have adapted many of the processes associated with breeding and growing to maximise their productivity for example, an automated bin placement for picking, originally a two man job, but now a one man operation carried out in half the time. Looking to the future, James discusses the move from mechanisation to robotisation.

Growing a sustainable family business presented by Tom Keogh followed next. Tom highlighted the effect that the ever-changing world and media can have on a business. In 2000 it became evident that the once family staple potato was suffering a demise due to diet culture and time restraints. Through rebranding with a family focus, launching National Potato Day, creating a simple cookbook and creating cook in a bag potato they have managed to grow the business and considerably and now have a global customer base. Tom reminded delegates that things are changing, and consumers are consuming food differently; businesses must consider how they can adapt to this.

The final speaker of the day was Caroline Keeling, presenting Growing with Passion to meet Consumer Needs.  As a company, Keelings were producing products that were used under the name of supermarkets. They soon realised that they had developed a high-quality product, and in 2010 decided to launch their own brand. Once the brand had been established, Keelings wanted to keep learning and developing their range to what people needed – convenience. They wanted to offer a quick alternative to crisps or chocolate that people often would grab on the run.  Keelings have always had a lot of trials going on to develop better tasting fruit, but now they use information back from consumers about their wants when it comes to more specific details such as the size, flavour etc. of the fruit that is being developed.

The Chartered Institute of Horticulture would like to thank all the speakers and delegates who helped make the conference a success.