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Industry Talk - MM Flowers

last modified Apr 20, 2017 01:42 PM
Colum Donnelly and Richard Boyle from MM Flowers were invited by Mariana Fazenda of CambPlants Hub to visit the Department of Plant Sciences on Thursday 2nd March 2017.

Mariana organised a busy morning for them, meeting PIs from Plant Sciences and the Sainsbury Laboratory (Matt DaveyJohn CarrAlexander Jones and Alex Webb), Engineering (Fumiya Iida), and the co-ordinator of the Sensors Strategic Research Network, CamBridgeSens, Oliver Hadeler).

Every third mouthful of food relies on pollination

Beverley Glover

After a morning of fruitful conversations looking to match MM Flowers’ needs and the University of Cambridge’s various capabilities in agri-tech and identify potential collaboration opportunities, Colum and Richard had discussions with more Plant Scientists over lunch in the library.  We then moved to the packed lecture theatre where Howard Griffiths introduced the speakers. 

Beverley Glover explained that this is more crucial for some crops than others, and that crop losses are inevitable as pollinator numbers decline.  Beverley described how she is taking her curiosity-driven understanding of floral traits and what attracts an animal pollinator, and using this to address pollinator decline.  The first of these is the development of a scientifically-informed bee mix with Moles Seeds to provide maximum bee colony support.  The second is a study in conjunction with Wherry and sons and Jane Thomas at NIAB looking at measuring floral traits in Vicia faba.  Every floral trait that was measured varied, and understanding which of these floral traits are preferred by bees will enable targeted breeding of a bean crop for maximum pollinator support.

After Beverley, Colum Donnelly gave an overview of the MM Flowers business.  MM flowers takes cut flowers through the entire supply chain; from primary production, through propagation, freight, processing, distribution to the customer, and also sales and marketing.  The business has a thriving research and development programme and is keen to innovate and work with academia to help their business grow, become more sustainable and withstand the various challenges it faces.

Richard gave an overview of the technical challenges faced by MM flowers.  Roses are the most important cut flower on the market and the key to a good rose is life preservation – keeping them at high quality after cutting and storage.  There are many areas for potential innovation in the cut flower business; precision agronomy, breeding (rose genetics is complex and poorly exploited), nutrition, irrigation, disease management, response to environment, mathematical modelling, robotic harvesting and bouquet production – the list goes on!  Richard finished by highlighting that the University of Cambridge and MM Flowers could work together, not only by scientific collaboration projects to answer specific challenges, but also by sharing specialist resources, helping with data management and statistical understanding, and knowledge transfer.

An incredibly busy question and answer session followed with questions from the audience on a vast range of topics: rose genetics, carbon footprint of flower transport versus growing flowers in the ‘wrong’ place, community building in developing countries, discussion of how collaborations between academia and business start, the potential for an entirely novel flower, preventing petals dropping, and more.

Colum and Richard have invited researchers to visit their new base in Alconbury in the summer, and in the meantime are talking further with academics about which projects they would like to pursue.  Hopefully their busy morning will lead to exciting collaborations that use Cambridge’s scientific interests to solve MM Flowers’ business needs and, who knows, maybe eventually lead to an everlasting rose.

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