NOVEMBER 1997                     110


In August 1967 MAFF opened its Isles of Scilly sub-station at Trenoweth, St. Mary's.  Thirty years later, despite government cutbacks and uncertainty, the station still survives to celebrate an important milestone and many significant achievements.  Its future is more secure now than for many years and its work still vital for the continuance of commercial horticulture on the Islands.  Relaunched in 1992 as a private company, Trenoweth Research and Development Station Ltd retains its original objectives, namely to improve the profitability of the Islands' farms, but its methods and finances reflect the changing times.  Unlike in the early years when the Islands' had their own resident, and free horticultural adviser, growers now requiring a full service of information and advice have to become subscribers.
From the start, the Duchy of Cornwall have played a central role in Trenoweth's success by providing good land, buildings and much assistance.  The centre is now well equipped to serve the needs of the 300 acre, mainly narcissus, industry, and this year will see the opening of a new office, an improved meeting and facilities for visitors.
Since MAFF handed over management of the centre to a 7-man Board of Directors under the Chairmanship of Jon May, the company has secured a 5 year funding package under the European 5b initiative which together with MAFF funding, underpins the project.  The remainder has to be raised from other sponsors such as the Duchy of Cornwall, the Islands' Council, the Horticultural Development Council and through local membership and commercial activities.
The full extent to which Trenoweth has helped to maintain a viable horticultural industry in Scilly can only be estimated, but over its 30 year life it has introduced and promoted developments without which commercial flower production could never have survived against the very strong competition that exists today.
The reason for establishing the station was to study the production of the Islands' principal crop; narcissus Grand Soleil d'Or.  This winter flower remains the backbone of the industry, and fortunately cannot be produced in the open anywhere else in northern Europe.  In the '60's and '70's the sole means of advancing the flowering of Soleil d'Or was by importing, spreading and burning expensively purchased straw.  This was superseded by the development of propane gas burners and Trenoweth showed that several passes over the ground was more effective than a single treatment and more importantly, that the growth promoting agent was smoke.
Twenty years ago, pre-Christmas flowers were produced by the laborious and uncertain process of digging up and warm storing the bulbs.  This has now been replaced by the practice of covering the bulbs fields with clear polythene beneath which smoke is introduced, a technique which has greatly increased the volume of early flowers whilst reducing costs.  These techniques have given particularly dramatic results with Paper White narcissi which, without treatment, frequently fail to flower.  Now this variety provides a reliable start to the flower season.  As far as is known our systems are unique in the bulb growing world.
Those who attended the inaugural day in 1967 would surely be gratified to see the contribution that Trenoweth has made and could be well pleased that their efforts and foresight have been rewarded.  Today, Trenoweth is highly regarded in the horticultural world, especially for its pioneering work on Tazetta Narcissi.  Honoured as a centre "in pursuit of excellence", this remains the station's commitment for the future to ensure that Scilly retains its historic 100 year flower industry.
Andrew Tompsett
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