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Official opening of UK's first Centre of Excellence in greenhouse growing

A new education centre developed to inspire and train the next generation of UK salad and vegetable growers was officially opened by Roger Gough, leader of Kent County Councilon the 5th June 2024.

The Thanet Earth Centre of Excellence @ Hadlow College based in Tonbridge, Kent, is the UK's first Centre of Excellence in glasshouse growing. It will connect the higher education institute with the horticulture sector and promises to bring a new generation of greenhouse technical specialists to the industry, protecting the future of UK-grown fresh produce.

Based at Hadlow's state-of-the-art glasshouse, horticultural students will benefit from working directly with Thanet Earth, the UK's largest glasshouse salad supplier, to develop their skills and grow tomatoes in a commercial crop environment.

The partnership will deliver a unique hands-on educational support programme, with direct access to leading employers across the fresh produce supply chain. Benefits will include funding for specialist teaching staff, industry visits, bespoke seminars, and career mentoring.

The Centre of Excellence was opened during British Tomato Week, in response to concerns about the lack of skilled workers in the sector.

Protecting the UK's food security
The 2024 UK Food Security Index, recently published by the UK Government, identified that only 17% of fruit and 55% of vegetables were grown domestically in the UK. These two food groups are the most reliant on imports, which the report recognises as a risk to national food security.

Rob James, Technical Director, Thanet Earth, said: "Food security in the UK depends on inspiring the next generation of talent into our industry. We rely on skilled and passionate people to drive innovation and help to make delicious and nutritious UK-grown fresh produce available in your local food stores.

"There are incredible careers available across the fresh produce supply chain. Collaboration between education and industry is critical to changing perceptions of the sector and ensuring young people develop relevant, practical, and employable skills."

Alan Harvey, Head of Horticulture, Hadlow College, said: "This partnership offers our students a unique education experience. The close relationship between our college and the commercial horticultural sector means our students can experience the latest commercial growing techniques in our cutting-edge glasshouse facilities. Not only does this provide depth and enrichment to their education, but it will also enable our students to graduate with skills and experience that will be very attractive to employers."

Dr Nikki Harrison, Director for Growing Kent & Medway, a partner in the initiative, said: "Having the UK's first Centre of Excellence here in Kent will ensure we have the pipeline of new talent and skills required to keep our region at the forefront of horticultural innovation.

"Linking industry with education ensures that the training provided reflects the latest crop production techniques and knowledge available in modern growing practices. We hope this is the first of many collaborations between industry and further education to address the critical skills shortage our industry faces."

For more information:
Thanet Earth Centre of Excellence @ Hadlow College,

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