Commercial nursery Johnsons of Whixley has appointed a plant health specialist – one of the first businesses in the industry to take on a permanent member of staff in this role.
Rebekah Robinson joins North Yorkshire-based Johnsons from the Royal Horticultural Society, where her remit included delivery of plant health policy for RHS shows, staff training and diagnosing diseased plant samples in the laboratory for RHS members and garden staff.
Her appointment is particularly timely as 2020 has been decreed the International Year of Plant Health by the United Nations.
Rebekah will take a role in ensuring all plants produced at the company’s sites in Whixley, Cattal and Roecliffe are in peak condition and ensure Johnsons’ employees are appropriately trained on plant health issues such as ash dieback, oak processionary moth (OPM) and xylella. Rebekah will run training sessions not only on identifying and dealing various plant diseases, but also on plants to watch, case studies and where to go for more on plant health.
Rebekah will also be working with the team who manage Johnsons’ quality assurance and environmental standards in maintaining and updating the plant health standard that sits alongside.
With a PhD in agricultural microbiology, Rebekah has made a career as a plant health specialist and was eager to make the switch from the RHS to production horticulture with Johnsons.
She said: “In my previous role I was working at the customer end of the horticultural industry and I’m now looking forward to gaining a better understanding of the production end of the industry.
“I am also looking forward to adding my knowledge and experience to that already possessed by the team at Johnsons and developing our plant health systems to ensure they are robust enough to handle the future threats we may face. One of my key challenges will be to mitigate Johnsons’ exposure to these threats whilst maintaining regular operational levels.”
Brexit has also raised several unknowns for the future direction of plant health in the UK, therefore Johnsons, along with the industry as a whole, will be watching this closely.
Graham Richardson, group managing girector at Johnsons, said: “We felt that with the various threats to plant health that exist in the industry, Rebekah’s appointment is a timely one – particularly with Brexit around the corner. As a company, we take plant health seriously and Rebekah will play a key role in ensuring all our working practices are as rigorous and robust as possible.”
Johnsons has just celebrated its strongest year of trading in its 98-year history, reporting a turnover of £14.3m – up more than two million on the original forecast – and almost 400 new customers on the order books.