Meet the Fellows

2023 Fellows

Due to the high calibre of applications for the 2023 Fellowship, eight candidates were selected onto the scheme.

Felipe Becerra Sanchez

Plant Scientist, Vertical Fruit Ltd

Felipe has been a Plant Scientist at Vertical Fruit since early 2022. Before that he got a Masters in Agricultural sciences and a PhD on Postharvest biology working with Vitacress Ltd. and Barfoots of Botley Ltd. After that he got a role as a Process Technologist at Barfoots of Botley Ltd. where he learnt about the fresh-cut produce industry.

Felipe is enthusiastic about new technologies and he believes the future of the food industry heavily relies on innovation. He is interested in developing sustainable forms of agriculture and applying science to AgBusiness.

Eliot Barden

Aftercare, Apprenticeship and Training Manager, Majestic Trees

Eliot’s roles comprises of of visits made to planted trees in customers gardens using a custom fitted vehicle equipped to carry out any necessary task which the tree may require. Tasks may include pruning, soil analysis, fertilising, pest and disease control, staking and anchoring. Eliot has also designed an apprenticeship and traineeship progamme at Majestic Trees with the aim of encouraging young people and career changers into horticulture. On site practical and theory training is provided monthly by himself alongside their full time nursery / planting positions. The apprentices attend college to study the RHS level 2 Diploma.

His previous experience consists of time spent at production nurseries, private gardens and estates and also 5 years spent at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew completing the Apprenticeship and also the Kew Diploma programmes.

“I hope the LSA Fellowship will enable me to build relationships and teach me the communication route between trade bodies and government, but critically the link back to businesses. In order to aspire to be a future leader, the understanding off all aspects of Horticulture is required, and so I hope to further my understanding of the entire industry throughout the scheme.

I am also keen to understand what the future holds for UK horticulture, make extensive contacts and keep up to date with the most recent research and development. By the end of the scheme, I hope to be able to make valid decisions based on what I have learned, for the best interest of the future for Majestic Trees and UK production horticulture.”

Rebecca Firth

Soils Specialist/Agronomist, H L Hutchinsons

Rebecca started her role at Hutchinsons in 2017, having graduated from Harper Adams University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Agriculture with Crop Management. Prior to this she had experience of working on local farms, and had completed a placement year working for Bayer CropScience, based on the trials farm which provided her with a brilliant insight into the research and development of the ag-chem industry.

Rebecca initially began her career as an agronomist, based in central Lincolnshire, but specialised in soil in 2021. This opportunity has now enabled her to broaden her geographic area, and move from being heavily arable focused, to a far more diverse role. As a soil specialist for Hutchinsons, Rebecca provides daily advice on regenerative and sustainable agricultural practices, with a focus on soil health and an aim to provide practical farming solutions. This includes offering expertise to internal colleagues and on farm training with individual farmers and grower groups. She loves the variety of the role, and the opportunity it affords her to meet such a vast range of growers and businesses.

“I am delighted to have been selected to take part in the fellowship, and look forward to taking full advantage of all of the opportunities it will afford. I’m looking forward to meeting like minded peers, who are enthusiastic about the changing future of the horticultural sector. I hope the knowledge I gain throughout the experience I will be able to share with growers and colleagues alike; and will further broaden my knowledge base giving me the opportunity to further develop my career within this exciting industry.”

Laura Pearson

Assistant Grower, The Greenhouses Sussex Ltd

Laura has worked at The Greenhouse Sussex Ltd for just over 2 years as an assistant grower. They grow 6 different varieties of on-the-vine tomatoes that they supply to major UK retailers. Before working in greenhouse crops, she was an assistant farm manager on a fresh produce farm, mainly focusing on spinach, brassicas, asparagus and fresh cut herbs.

As an assistant grower Laura covers all areas of the crop, focusing on getting the best quality and yield from the plants by looking into all the different inputs that are needed.  Her job role covers all aspects, from climate control via a computer system and spraying, through to irrigation and yield forecasting within the crop.

Laura recently got her FACTS qualification, and is currently doing her BASIS training. She is looking forward to using the knowledge gained from these qualifications to look into further IPM and nutrition on the site. Monthly feed analysis is carried out so that any deficiencies or potential toxicities in the growing media can be rectified and fertiliser recipes changed. Looking at pest and disease is an important part of her role and she looks after the spraying schedule, ensuring all chemicals and paperwork is correct for the recommended programme for the crop.

“I am excited that the fellowship will provide opportunities to expand my knowledge of different crops and growing techniques.”

Robert Sayer

Finished Products Manager

Rob is a young and innovative horticulturalist with a diverse skill set and a passion for sustainable horticulture.

Rob has a background in engineering, which has proven to be an invaluable asset in their work as a horticulturalist. He has used his technical expertise to implement and refine computer-controlled climate control systems, which optimised growing conditions, reduced costs and increased crop yields.

One of Rob’s key areas of expertise is in pest and disease management. He has developed effective strategies for controlling pests and diseases without the use of pesticides or chemicals by relying on biocontrols, nematodes, and novel techniques which has helped to reduce the environmental impact of farming operations.

Emma Smith

Crop Walker & Growing Technician, Lower Hope Fruit

Emma works as a Growing Technician and Crop Walker for Lower Hope Fruit, who are a Berry Gardens grower producing cherries, raspberries and apples over 55 hectares of land in North Herefordshire.

Emma arrived at Lower Hope at the start of 2022. Her favourite responsibility is crop health and protection, where she monitors pest and disease levels within all of their crops and reacts accordingly. She is very passionate about the industry shift towards Integrated Pest Management strategies, favouring a holistic approach to crop protection.

As a school leaver, Emma did not work in this industry. She enrolled onto the Foundation Degree in Horticulture at Nottingham Trent university in 2017 at the age of 25, a three year course with an industrial placement. She worked as a Trainee Gardener at Chatsworth House whilst on placement, it was here that her enthusiasm for production horticulture was born. As a student she also worked on a commercial orchard in Nottinghamshire and post-graduation, spent her first year in the industry as an Assistant Grower for a soft fruit producer in Herefordshire.

“I feel very fortunate to love what I do, I didn’t chose this industry, it chose me! I am delighted to be joining the LSA Fellowship scheme. I find the prospect of enhancing myself professionally whilst networking and making friends along the way exciting, I can’t wait to experience what this fellowship has lined up for me. I am also looking forward to sharing my insights of the industry so far with a like minded Cohort.”

Kym Smith

Product Development specialist Leafy and Rooted crop, Hazera Seeds Ltd UK

Kym has been in her current role for 3 and a half years which consists of organising trials for all the salad and rooted crops from the breeders to assess if they are suitable for the UK growing conditions and are improvements on what their growers currently use. She travels around the country visiting different growers’ fields to technically evaluate and gain as much understanding of their varieties before deciding as a team if the product can be offered for commercial sales.

Before Hazera, Kym worked at PDM Produce for 3 years, a lettuce growers in Shropshire, whom she joined as part of her placement year from Harper Adams whilst completing her degree in Food Science and Nutrition.

“I feel that joining the LSA Fellowship will allow me to access areas of the industry that I wouldn’t usually do in my day to day job. And for the future, I want to continue working with vegetable crops and on improving the nutrition of our new varieties.”

Phoebe Sutton

Plant Scientist, Vertically Urban

Phoebe has been in her current role for almost 2 years and is the main scientific arm of the company. As such her day-to-day tasks include planning, executing and analysing the data collected from trials under multiple spectra on several crop species conducted inside the R&D grow room. She also performs literature reviews to answer questions on behalf of clients and visits clients to make recommendations based on their needs and values.

“I hope that the LSA Fellowship Scheme will accelerate my transition from academia to industry by giving me a comprehensive overview of the horticultural industry, from seed to fork. I look forward to meeting my peers within the space, visiting their workspaces and facilities and sharing my own, as well as exploring new ideas at conferences and gatherings, which will benefit my development, understanding and appreciation of the industry. I then aim to bring this knowledge and insight into my working life to progress my career in the agricultural space.”

2022 Fellows

Sam Brook

Senior Agronomist, Vitacress

Sam started his role as Senior Agronomist at Vitacress Herbs, Chichester in January 2022, which comprises overall responsibility for agronomy for the herbs produced on the site. This amounts to about 20 million pots a year; predominantly Basil, but also including other herbs such as Rosemary, Sage, Parsley and Coriander. It is a varied role with the main focus being on working with and advising the growing team, and extending to technical, consumer-facing and audit work too. There is a significant emphasis on technological development and efficiency gains, as well as an R&D budget to help achieve this. The pursuit of a peat-free substrate is a big focus, as well as a drive to make better use of data and technology to improve the growing process. Meeting quality and production targets is the main objective, so walking the crop and designing spray programmes and biological inputs to achieve this is the main responsibility, with other duties fitting in around that.

    Sam previously worked as a tomato grower for three years, and this is where his knowledge of protected cropping and year-round production, as well as climate-computer automation and crop nutrition was developed. Prior to this he was a Shipbroker, retraining via a MSc at Reading in Agriculture & Development.

“Within this new role I am really encouraged to innovate and investigate new production methods or potentially relevant technology, and I hope that this Fellowship will serve as a great vehicle for meeting like-minded people and presenting opportunities that otherwise might pass me by. I like the idea of a horticultural think-tank where we all contribute ideas and learn from each other. I also feel that we need to do more to promote the importance of horticulture so hopefully the LSA Fellowship platform will facilitate developing this narrative.”

James Crawford

Horticulture Centre Manager, Greenmount College

The Horticulture Centre grows a wide variety of crops including soft fruit (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries), salads and leafy greens (lettuce pak choi, basil etc.), protected ornamental crops (spring and autumn bedding, Poinsettias), nursery stock (trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials) and cut flowers (lilies and tulips). James has been in this post for just over two years and enjoys the range of challenges this range of crops produces.

A typical day for him includes managing staff to organise crop management tasks, pest and disease monitoring, purchasing, organising tasks for students, planning for future crops, assisting to identify new technologies/crops for the Northern Ireland horticulture industry and overseeing a variety of investigations that are being carried out at the college.

Previously, James has worked in numerous different nurseries (nursery stock, cut flowers and salads) as well as a garden centre. He has also spent 1 year working in the USA, part of this time spent as a crop scout for potato crops, the other part of time time spent working for a large plug and liner producer.

“I believe that the Fellowship will benefit me in a number of ways. Firstly, I am very keen to discuss with the other Fellows and exchange knowledge and ideas, and help each other through our career development. Secondly, I am keen to be involved with many of the trade bodies, meet industry leaders, and learn about the role that the trade bodies have in communicating with government on behalf of the industry.

In the near future, I plan on completing both BASIS and FACTS certifications in Commercial Horticulture. I also hope that I can use my position as a Fellow on the scheme to gain new knowledge and new ideas to grow my career, wherever that may take me!”

Vicky Endersby

Nursery Operations Manager, Osberton Nurseries

Vicky’s involvement in the horticultural industry began when she embarked on a career change and applied to be on the Adam Frost Garden Academy. The Academy was created to encourage more people to consider horticulture as a career choice. On completion she became a Horticulture Manager for Wyevale Garden Centres before moving to Osberton Nurseries as an Assistant Production Manager in 2018.

Having since progressed to Nursery Operations Manager, Vicky is now responsible for implementing the correct processes and procedures across the 20ha site to efficiently grow 250,000, high quality, rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas for sale to UK garden centres yearly.

“Being accepted as part of the LSA Fellowship I hope will expand my professional network and allow me access to new perspectives, knowledge and ideas that I can utlise in my role at Osberton Nurseries to help better prepare us for any future changes or challenges that we face in the horticultural industry.”

Esmee Lai

In-House Agronomist, Emmett Farms UK Ltd

Esmee has worked for Emmett Farms UK Ltd for over 3 years now. The farming company is based in South Lincolnshire and grows four main crops – kale, cavolo nero, leeks and spinach – supplying major UK retailers. Prior to this she held a hands-on role on a farm growing a diverse range of fresh produce.

Esmee’s current role as an in-house agronomist is primarily focused on the production of brassica crops from the planning stages right through to point of harvest. Ensuring continuous availability and excellent quality throughout the season are her main objectives. Planning plays a key role in ensuring that the crop is harvested at its optimum, but on a day to day basis, this involves routine crop walking, monitoring levels of pests and diseases and taking frequent weights and samples.

“I am looking forwards to my time on the Fellowship scheme immensely. It will be great to meet with likeminded people to exchange knowledge and to share my passion for kale! I am excited to have been offered this unique opportunity to broaden my knowledge by seeing and experiencing aspects of horticulture which I am less familiar with. It is always great to learn something new! There are lots of areas within the industry that I am interested in – including developing new varieties with beneficial traits, improving crop health without using pesticides, understanding micro-nutrient management, increasing soil health and sustainability and envisioning the role that technology has to play. I hope to be able to explore these topics with the Fellowship scheme. With all the issues that we face in the industry, we need to be adaptable and dynamic to continue growing well. I am hoping that involvement with the Fellowship will help me to see where we are headed and perhaps even shape our direction of travel.”

Rosie Pash

Commercial Manager, APS Produce

Rosie has worked in her role as Commercial Manager at APS Produce since May 2021, with experience working with a range of retailers across the categories of legumes, brassicas and now salad.

Rosie holds an MSc. from Utrecht University, where her research focused on the impact of physical and chemical variables on crop yield and disease in the context of climate change.

“As part of the Fellowship I am looking forward to gaining a broader understanding of the challenges facing our industry and how we can share learnings and best practice to safeguard the British growing for the future.  Communicating ideas is one of the key aspects of my job so I am looking forward to developing my knowledge of growing and policy.”

Gemma Watson

Sales & Product Development, CN Seeds

The vast seed portfolio and services offered at CN Seeds means that Gemma’s role is hugely varied which she really enjoys. In this role, she works in both the sales and marketing team and the product development team.

On the product development side, Gemma is involved in a wide variety of trials including testing possible biostimulants to provide alternative protective seed treatments due to the changes in regulations. She is also developing priming protocols for herb and baby leaf crops to decrease the time to germination and increase the percentage of germination, which could both reduce the crop cycle and reduce the chance of seedling diseases.

Having grown up on an arable farm and studied Biochemistry at The University of Leeds, Gemma  completed the Management Development Services (MDS) graduate scheme. This involved working for an asparagus and blueberry farm, an industrial bakery and the agricultural solutions division of BASF. During this scheme she held a variety of roles, from HR and marketing to crop trials and harvest management.

“As part of the scheme, I am really looking forward to visiting various companies and creating networks with people across the industry. I am eager to keep well informed of the latest horticultural news, environmental and growing legislation and the newest technological advances. In addition, I am excited to improve my technical knowledge through the wide range of technical meetings offered over the two years.

My long term aspiration is to have the technical knowledge and holistic understanding of the horticultural industry so that I can help growers keep up with global food demands whilst jumping through the everchanging hoops of legislation.”

2021 Fellows

Rob Wickham

General Farm Manager, Bardsley England

Rob has worked for Bardsley England, a 5th generation top, stone and soft fruit grower/packer, supplying UK retailers for 2 years. Prior to this, he held other roles within the fruit industry, both in soft fruit and top fruit, for Haygrove and Adrian Scripps Ltd. Daily jobs involve the planning and scheduling of orchard tasks – both mechanical and manual, crop protection and nutrition as well as accurate budgeting and forecasting.

“Being accepted to partake in the Fellowship is exciting on many levels, not only to explore what lies ahead from a policy aspect (an area of my career I endeavour to explore further), but also for the learning opportunities which may present themselves across other sectors of the horticulture industry. I see the exchange of knowledge amongst my cohort of fellows and other professionals within the industry as extremely important and will hopefully accelerate my development and breadth of knowledge in horticulture.

In the future I hope to be an industry leader, specialising in producing fresh produce in a sustainable, regenerative approach and ultimately reversing climate change in the process.”

Lauren Hladun

Supply Chain Technologist, Manor Fresh Ltd

Lauren has been in her current role for close to 4 years and enjoys working in an ever developing, exciting and fast paced industry. Day to day, her role involves managing a range of growers and crops both in the UK and overseas, ensuring that supplier approval requirements are met and product quality meets the demands of their customers.

Coming from an arable farming family background, Lauren went on to study BSc (Hons) Agriculture at University of Nottingham. Outside of work, Lauren’s passion for horticulture and the great outdoors continues. She’s an avid beekeeper, enjoys exploring the countryside with her dogs and attempting to create new recipes in the kitchen using the crops she’s grown.

“I am delighted to have been selected to take part in the LSA Fellowship and am looking forward to meeting like minded peers who are equally as passionate about steering and shaping the future of the industry.”

Jed Knaggs

Crop Performance & Sustainable Growing Manager, The Summer Berry Company

Following four years of glasshouse growing since graduating in 2018, Jed has recently taken on a new role as Crop Performance and Sustainable Growing Manager. This broad role will see him working across multiple production systems and soft fruit crops with the challenge of improving growing and agronomy processes, managing all resources used on farms, managing all trials/R&D, extensive crop profiling and data management, production/farm compliance and auditing and taking the lead role on all new agricultural technology and environmental initiatives.

I am very much looking forward to learning more about how other producers of various crops operate and gaining transferable knowledge to bring back to The Summer Berry Company. Furthermore, this is a hugely exciting time to be involved with the fresh produce industry. Collectively we are faced with increasing food production whilst minimising resource use and our effect on the external environment. This can only be achieved with technologically and agronomically progressive growing with support from industry bodies and policy makers. Therefore I believe the LSA Fellowship will give me a great insight into how industry strategies and policies develop and influence food production.”

Isobel Tickner

Product Development Assistant, Tozer Seeds

Isobel has been in her role as a product development assistant at Tozer Seeds for over 3 years. Her role follows a product lifecycle from breeding and internal screening trials to pre-commercial trials with Growers, to develop new and improved varieties for the UK market.

Before Tozer Seeds, Isobel studied MSci Biology at Southampton University where she undertook field projects and a placement with the Hampshire Wildlife Trust, surveying invasive plant species in the New Forest.

The Fellowship scheme is a great opportunity to learn more about the wider horticultural industry and the interaction of trade, research and government organisations. The scheme provides the opportunity to join horticultural events, on a diverse range of topics that I would not access in my current role.

Ultimately, I would like to expand my knowledge outside of the seed industry and agriculture as well as build a network of professionals through the fellowship scheme. I hope to gain insight into new innovations and any challenges in the industry, which one day I can help to address in my future career.”

David Malcolm

Site manager, Worfield Plants

David has worked as site manager for Worfield Plants, part of the Boningale Ltd group, having previously worked within the Production department.

David’s position focuses on the production aspect of nursery life, from assisting the Production Director with the creation and management of production plans to involvement with the EMS accreditation for their site, looking at their environmental practices and taking part in the auditing process.

“The Fellowship represents an opportunity for me to open up my experience of the horticulture industry beyond the confines of my nursery (lovely as it is) and to see better how things are achieved, and the legislative bodies that are integral to those achievements. By interacting with my peers I hope to be able to advise and to be advised by those whose experience is at a comparable level to my own.

In the long run I hope the Fellowship will help me build my role at the nursery and have the connections and experience to evolve with it. I also hope that I can learn how the industry is being promoted to the younger generations and aspire to aid in that area myself.”

Ant Surrage

Technical Development Manager, Fargro

Ant has been with Fargro for just over 3 years. His role is to develop and test exclusive plant protection products (PPP) and horticultural/agricultural technologies for the Fargro portfolio of nationally exclusive products (NEPs).

“The LSA fellowship will benefit me by improving my understanding of how industry bodies devise strategies, develop new markets and lobby government. Within my role product approvals can often run on timelines of several years. So greater involvement and comprehension of the processes of industry bodies can inform development needs and thus allow me to better manage projects and product development based on industry demand.

The fellowship will help with my professional development and career objective of achieving a managerial role in UK horticulture. Being part of discussions with other professionals in the industry, learning from them and networking with other fellows will help me develop the skillsets I need for this.”

2020 Fellows

Rebecca Smith

Technical Manager, Valley Produce.

Rebecca is currently Technical Manager at Valley Produce; a herb and Chinese brassica grower and packer in Berkshire.  She has been with Valley Produce for 6 years, the first two as part of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) project with the University of Reading developing products from herb waste. Rebecca’s’ day to day responsibilities include: food safety, quality, legality, integrity and compliance with industry and retailer standards. She is also an Advisory Board member of the Horticulture Quality and Food Loss Network.

Prior to working at Valley Produce, Rebecca did a PhD at the University of Nottingham investigating genetic and biochemical traits associated with frozen fruit properties.

“The Fellowship will give me a wider view of the industry through interaction with other Fellows, businesses and organisations and widen the network of people I can call upon for discussion and advice on issues relevant to my company and career.  I also hope to gain a better understanding of how the industry trade bodies function, and how each body communicates with each other, the growers and the Government to draw down funding and influence policy to help businesses in the sector. Although it has been a strange year with the COVID pandemic, I’ve enjoyed meeting the other fellows virtually and we’ve shared information and advice related to our industry and roles which has been invaluable. It’s also been interesting to see how each other’s part of the horticulture industry has been affected by the pandemic.”

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