30th Oct 2023

The changing face of horticulture

The horticulture market and regulations have changed considerably over the past 40 years and as Charles Platt, responsible for Vitax’s technical development, celebrates 40 years with the company, he looks back on what has changed and what lies ahead.

“I graduated university with a degree in agricultural chemistry during a period of recession, so roles directly related to my degree were scarce. I approached the British Agriculture Association with my CV, which they kept on file, and shortly afterwards I was contacted to say there was an opening at what was then Synchemicals - and the rest as they say is history!

“Initially employed as a chemist, my main responsibility was product formulation and quality assurance, predominantly for the professional amenity market and then later, the retail side of the business.

“The initial products developed for the retail market mirrored our professional, horticultural products but not industrial strength.

“As early as the late 1950s the industry followed the UK government’s Pesticides Safety Preacutions Scheme to protect gardeners, but it was not as heavily regulated as it is today.

“Whilst there were standards to follow, the voluntary precaution scheme was in place to provide guidance on labels and storage, but packaging was quite unsophisticated with many products sold in glass bottles or tins.

“However, in 1986 this changed with the introduction of the Control of Pesticides regulations which focused on efficacy of a product and an approval process based on efficacy and safety.

“Vitax have always adhered to any guidance which meant little changed in the way we formulated products, but the introduction of the pesticide regulations provided the stepping stone for the regulations that are now in place today.

“Over time these regulations have changed and I’ve seen many products come and go, but Vitax has a number that we still market today, which are still as effective and popular as ever.

“SBK and Nippon have stood the test of time as have smaller products like Medo and Fruit Tree Grease.

“The market is much more competitive today, but as a family-run business, Vitax has remained resilient under strong leadership.

“Initially based in London, we made the move to Coalville in the mid-late 80s, which provided additional space to develop new products and expand the retail side of the business, leading to the formulation of one of our most successful brands - Q4.

“Since the move, Vitax has grown organicially with a range of new products, but also through acquisition. The purchase of Organico’s 6X and Slug Gone strengthened our organic product ranges, with both well-known and regarded by professional growers and consumers.

“Perhaps one of the greatest changes on the horizon will be transitioning fully out of the EU. Once the guidelines are published we will need to adapt products to ensure they meet the needs of both the EU and the UK.

“Looking forward, organic and sustainable products will continue to grow as will biostimulants, mychorrizal-based products and those similar to Q4 Rootmore. Invigorators that remove or prevent disease and deter pests will also likely continue.

“Horticulture is cyclical and we are moving towards more regulation of pesticides and a growing trend for organic and natural products. Regulations will continue to tighten and we may see popular products removed from the shelves and new ones appear.

“I don’t know what the next 40 years will look like, but if it is anything like the preceding years it will involve a lot of change and creation of new products, which I enjoy the most.”


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