Open Strategic network meeting

Summary of PlantLink’s Open Strategic network meeting 2020-03-13

Notes by Svante Resjö and Tina D’Hertefeldt

There are more initiatives and large research projects around plant science than ever before in the Skåne region. This is great! During the fall 2019, PlantLink initiated an internal discussion on how we can collaborate in an efficient way and better define our role in this growing eco-system of plant-related initiatives. This led forward to an open discussion with representatives of organization networks related to plant science on the 13th of March 2020.

Erik Alexandersson, Director of PlantLink and coordinator NordPlant, opened the network meeting with a general presentation of PlantLink and NordPlant. Thereafter, the participants introduced themselves. A list of the participants is found at the end of the document.

Erik continued with an introduction of the theme of the meeting and a Mentimeter question: Is plant research better organized in the region now than in the past? The majority of the answers were “yes”, followed by “don’t know”. Some specific answers were that there were now more links between researchers, that PlantLink has been successful in creating a lot more interactions and collaborations between SLU Alnarp, LU and stakeholders in the industry and other organisations. The replies of “I don’t know” were discussed and was generally related to the varying time respondents could relate to.

The meeting had three sections: research, education and innovation. The discussion on research continued about how to strengthen collaboration. One suggestion was that there should be a digital platform where people can find information about each other for collaborations. There was also discussion of meetings for networking. Erik brought up “Urban drinks” for mingles in Malmö. Cooperation with other, existing networks was suggested , that could result in cluster building. There were suggestions on how the different networks could communicate, for example through people with many affiliations, who could act as connective hubs. Experience from food clusters was shared, where information on ongoing initiatives was shared for interested persons kept updated. This could be done in a low-cost way via a website.

Discussion on future funding possibilities: How to find untapped sources? How can the networks support this? FoodKIC was mentioned as an example of where a network has been useful to find a new source of funding. Eva discussed how the SLU Grogrund funds were achieved. It failed at the first attempt but if you try repeatedly you will be there when the right moment comes.

What are the potential gaps to excel plant research and innovation in the region? We need the network because we have knowledge gaps! Lise-Lykke mentioned the PPP workshops as a place that identified gaps, and a report from that will soon be available. Erik mentioned the PlantLink self-evaluation, that also identified gaps and areas which can be strengthened to improve the research environment for plant science. Climate policy was also mentioned as an area where there are knowledge gaps in plant science. Deniz discussed the different networks, and that there could be both synergies and conflicts between those. Further, the importance of different types of stakeholders was mentioned, as a potential for implementation of science in the real world.

Annika Åhnberg summarized the discussion in that yes, plant science in the region is better organized today. There should be options to work towards regional support, since the sector of plant science has received increased interest from society, compared to previously when it was more “forgotten”. There were many suggestions in the discussion of how to use the networks better: mingles, a common webpage, LinkedIn and similar digital connections, cluster building and to use “hub” individuals in the networks. There was awareness in the networks of how to find new money, with SLU Grogrund, FoodKIC and climate policies as examples. We should all work more on showing how important research on plants is for society. There was no clear answer from the discussion on how to improve the research environment. It is important to identify knowledge gaps and two reports are available. Therefore, it was suggested to compile what is been done in all the networks. The importance of stakeholders was underlined. To activate them, we should involve them in the networks and in our activities. Specifically,  politicians should be invited to attend panels and give presentations at network events.

After a coffee break, Plant Science Education was discussed. A key question is how to attract more students? The NMT-days at Lund university was brought up as an example, where researchers each year give presentations to high school students about their research ( Erik Alexandersson asked if this helps, has the interest increased? Allan Rasmusson said that it possibly is a bit better, but many students are coming from abroad, i.e. they have not been recruited by influencing Swedish high schoolers. Salla Marttila said that at SLU Alnarp there is a lot of interest at the bachelor level, i.e. the applied programs. They then try to introduce plant science related courses and topics early in the bachelor courses, and see a somewhat positive trend.

Harald Klein from Movium mentioned that he was recently at an educational event, the conclusion was that the universities have to be more active when they recruit students.

Annika Åhnberg said that we must think about using social media to reach out and market our educational programs. Tina suggests also contacting the teachers on social media. John brought up his Singapore experience, with the Greenwave science competition ( where they offered rewards for both the teachers and the students for good projects. This however depended on participation from the entire system, underlining the importance of cooperation with staakeholders. Erik Alexandersson also mentioned Escapade which is an Erasmus program to improve and provide teaching tools for plant science ( Salla Marttila brought up using our current students for marketing and that it would be good to scale that up systematically.

Can we collaborate better with regard to education? Stefan Andersson reflected on good experiences from teacher exchange and suggested that the PlantLink exchange program between SLU Alnarp and LU should be expanded. Bo Gertsson from Lantmännen mentioned the need for students from plant science education for their recruitment. He wished that students would do summer projects with the industry, and that this has reciprocal benefits. Erik Alexandersson and Linnea Almqvist discussed connecting to the engineering departments at Lund university (LTH). This is very organisatorically difficult. There is an interest from students but it is hard to take single courses at another university and count it towards your degree. Specific obstacles were to find information about courses and to be allowed to count credits from a different university in your degree. Allan mentioned that eligibility, timing and administration were difficult.

Jep Agrell discussed regarding recruitment that recruitment from the high schools goes to biology in Lund university, and not specifically to plant-related science. His advise was that it would be better to focus on recruiting from the BSc and MSc-levels. If the high schools are targeted, an idea was to try to focus on “gymnasiearbete” to get pupils interested in plant science, and be supervisors of those. Another way would be to recruit from courses in for example a new Masters program in evolutionary biology. Erik pointed out PlantLink’s engagements in summer projects for high school students through VIS ( Deniz pointed out that PhD-level courses could be initiated between networks and gave examples from the Bioeconomy research school and the Plant protein platform that have courses around the protein shift. John said that alumni in plant science were not used and that we need to target them. Deniz mentioned that CEC works well there and this could be a model for future initiatives in the plant sector.

Anders Nilsson summarized the education section. First, students should be attracgte4d, and this could be done through being more active in the gymnasiums. Anders thought that the most interesting way was to use social media in a more pronounces way towards students and teachers. Second, John’s Greenwave Science competition was something to aim for. For the Masters education, this was well formulated by Jep, that more students are needed at the Masters level. There were several proposals of how to deal with the difficulties that Linnea and also Allan demonstrated, that are important to work with to increase student mobility between SLU Alnarp and LU. The potential for industrial projects and PhDs should be further pursued in the networks.

The final section targeted innovation and policy for plant research.

The discussion started with how to get contact with regional companies- It is important to build trust and long-term commitment. Annika Åhnberg mentioned that with policymakers it is important to look at politically decided goals, and then show that there is a link between the goals and your research. “You need this research to achieve those goals”. One way to do this is to invite them to activities, and to write short papers. Bo Gertsson said that it is important to spread the understanding that there is a chain from basic research to finished product and that everything comes from that chain, all links are needed including academic research. How to connect with tech companies? One way would be to have more students interested in the tech side of plant science, perhaps by a collaboration with LTH. Harald brought up that the landscape architects have that type of collaborations. Aakash Chawade is part of the group, which is trying to increase that collaboration. They also have existing collaborations with LTH. Anders stressed the importance of collaboration with industry. Seed money is important. Allan also stressed the importance of networks like PlantLink, and that connections between SLU Alnarp, Lu, industry and other stakeholders will result in new ideas.

Lise Lykke Steffensen summarized the discussion on innovation and policy with that researchers need to think outside the box and should meet people. She said that communication was touched upon in the entire discussion, as well as long-term commitment and building trust. The PlantLink day would be a good opportunity to realize the idea to invite politicians. The newsletter is also an opportunity to invite people and ask them to explain what competences and collaborations they are looking for. Lise Lykke establish that the geographical region is an IT and biotechnology hub, and that platforms are needed so that we can speak to each other. Finally, there is room for collaborations between the universities, industry and policy in the region.

Participants (at various locations)

Allan Rasmusson, LU

Ana Nordborg, LU

Anders Nilsson, Växtnoden

Annika Åhnberg, Växtnoden

Bo Gertsson, Lantmännen Lantbruk

Christina Lunner Kolstrup, SLU Global

Dennis Eriksson, SLU

Dennis Koca, LU

Erik Alexandersson, PlanLink

Eva Johansson, VF SLU

Georg Carlsson, BT SLU

Harald Klein, Movium

Jenny Bergsten, Region Skåne

Jep Agrell, LU

John (Jean) Yong, BT SLU

Juliana Dänhardt, CEC LU

Karl-Johan Bergstrand, BT SLU

Katja Fedrowitz, Plattform växtskydd och Plattform växtförädling SLU

Kristina Jönsson LU, Agenda 2030 Graduate School

Leif Bülow, ScanOats LU

Lena Ekelund Axelsson, SLU

Linnea Almqvist, SLU/Lyckeby

Lise-Lykke Steffensen, NordGen

Mariette Andersson, SLU Platform Plant Breeding, PlantLink

Michael Lyngkjaer; NordGen

Olle Olsson, LU/CropTailor

Olivier van Aken, LU

Salla Marttila, SLU Grogrund

Stefan Andersson, LU

Svante Resjö, NordPlant

Thomas Österman, SLU

Tina D’Hertefeldt, PlantLink


13:00 Welcome and quick round of presentations (max 1-2 minutes per network/organisation)

13:30 Research and research funding

14:15 Coffee break

14:45 MSc and PhD Education and outreach

15:15 Innovation and policy

15:45 Wrap-up