Hazel Smith- where are they now

Nine years after starting a PhD with Vitacress, I am now working as an Agronomist for the company.


Re-visiting some of my 2009-2012 PhD field sites in preparation for 2018 trials

Vitacress is a fresh produce supplier, specialising in watercress, salads and fresh herbs. We farm in the UK, Spain and Portugal, and wash and pack our own product. Over the years, Vitacress have been involved in a broad range of R&D and trial work and this included fully funding my PhD which focused on reducing water use in baby leaf salad cropping through both agronomic and genetic improvements. Since finishing my PhD in 2012, I’ve worked in both academia and industry. As a postdoctoral researcher I worked in the WATBIO consortium (www.watbio.eu) to develop our understanding of the genetic basis of drought tolerance and yield in bioenergy poplar using next generation sequencing. Outside of academia, I spent most of 2016 at a plant breeding company; Edward Vinson, where I learnt just how much effort goes into bringing new varieties to market using traditional and molecular breeding techniques.


My role at Vitacress includes the selection and development of improved plant varieties, which we do in close collaboration with a number of external seed houses with extensive trialling on our own farms. Growing these varieties involves adopting the best agronomic practices and I am particularly interested in utilising novel technologies to do this. As we also wash and pack the crops at Vitacress, optimising the processing of our leaves is also an important aspect to delivering high quality product. My role also involves managing the company’s R&D programme, which encompasses varietal development, agronomic and processing improvements, and minimising our environmental impact.


Author: Hazel Smith