The Bulbs & Outdoor Flowers sector is the smallest of AHDB Horticulture's sector panels contributing approximately 3% of the annual Horticulture levy income. This sector encompasses daffodil bulb and flower production, forced bulbs, other bulb crops such as tulips and gladioli, and outdoor cut flowers and foliage.
The future challenges provided by the bulbs and outdoor flowers sectors are refocusing research and development in new and exciting directions, providing opportunities for a broad range of researchers, not just restricted to the UK.
AHDB funded research and development work in the past has focused very much on crop protection issues and on variety trialling. Daffodil growers are still looking for robust sustainable management packages for a wide number of crop protection and agronomic challenges whilst also investigating marketing strategies to maintain and increase their market share. Production costs in this sector highlighted that labour can account for up to 60% of total production costs, with the next largest cost area being plant material, fertilisers, etc, at 20%.
The target of reducing labour costs per unit of production is a challenge and involves business management, capital investment, staff training, and in some instances legislative issues. It will not be easy to deliver this target but concerted action is needed amongst various industry associations in order to make progress. A recent initiative is the production of a training picking video to ensure industry best practice and increased efficiencies. There is some overlap between the labour issues in outdoor flower production and other field grown crops in the soft fruit and vegetables sectors. A combined initiative with other sector panels is likely to deliver further projects for the Bulbs and Flowers sector.
The increasing volumes of flowers sales by the multiple retailers and the recent adoption of accreditation and environmental schemes within the ornamentals industry worldwide, requires that growers produce and supply consistent quality bulbs and flowers that will achieve customer satisfaction. Breeders and packers are continually striving for new and better cultivars in order to interest customers and improve shelf-life. However, the focus of flower breeding programmes is rarely for UK production conditions and hence basic agronomic information is often lacking, particularly for those flower crops that could be produced in the UK in the summer months.
Recent intensive consultation with the cut flower industry has highlighted a number of new and challenging areas of research. These include market research into understanding customer trends, finding new treatments to prolong shelf life without the use of chemical pesticides' and the never ending endeavor to reduce the high costs of labour.
As government continues to bring in new legislation which has implications for the horticultural sector, the bulb and outdoor flower industries are continually searching for innovative technologies that will enable them to remain economically viable and environmentally friendly for the decades to come.
Research and Knowledge Exchange Manager