Ali Capper looks at the latest horticulture and potato sector challenges

The list of challenges facing this sector is as long as I can remember in my five years as chairman of the NFU Horticulture & Potatoes board.

The board met last week and discussed the backlog of authorisations for crop protection products, the ongoing labour recruitment challenges, increasing pressures within the supply chain and much more.

An immediate issue that will impact businesses that are importing plants and plant materials is the introduction of fees for plant health inspections on high priority plant and plant products from 1st June. The NFU has been raising member concerns at the highest level within Defra, emphasising the impacts the proposed charging regime will have on domestic production and competition. The NFU has called for an immediate review of the proposed system alongside interim measures until this review can take place. Working with EU Exit colleagues, our NFU Horticulture team has also hosted a workshop between Defra, APHA and growers, giving growers the floor to raise their concerns directly.

To learn more about NFU activity on this topic read: Import inspection fees: How is the NFU working for growers?

Last week also saw the government release its long-awaited England Peat Action Plan. The plan outlines the government’s long-term approach to reversing the decline of peatlands through measures that will ‘restore’, ‘reduce’ or ‘protect’ peat.

The action plan sets out the work of the Lowland Agricultural Peat Task Force in developing recommendations over the next 18 months to extend the usable life of agricultural lowland peat soils and makes a commitment to consult on measures to end the use of peat as a growing media.

The NFU understands how important it is that food production on lowland peat safeguards this valuable resource for future generations without compromising food security and will continue to engage with Defra via the task force, and it’s subgroups to support this objective. The NFU horticulture team is also working closely with Defra around the use of peat as a growing media and will be responding to its consultation on this issue when it’s launched later this year.

In the meantime, we’re continuing to work closely with growers and industry stakeholders via the Growing Media Taskforce to highlight the needs of industry and find the best possible recourse to support growers in their transition away from peat as a growing media. We all know this will not be an easy process and will take time alongside active government support, but the NFU continues to work on your behalf to highlight these concerns and many more, including the need for a level playing field for UK growers. You can find out more information on Defra’s announcement by reading: Building back greener: NFU responds to government announcements.