This industry is like the metaphorical swan. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a lot of consumers out there wondering what all the fuss was about. The supermarkets are well stocked, the news headlines are not whipping up a panic-buying frenzy, and we’re not (yet) seeing (yet) major business failures. But the industry deserves an awful lot of credit for this. Like the swan, we’re paddling very hard under the surface to ensure that we keep trade flowing and that we can meet our customers’ needs calmly on the surface. The NFU is playing its part by ensuring every issue our members report is escalated within Defra and addressed as quickly as possible. Thank you to everyone who has raised issues – this has been so helpful to ensure we get any snags swiftly resolved. And we’re giving our members a chance to hear directly from the teams within Defra who are trying to keep things moving.
Already we have held two webinars for members on trade and plant movement, plus another session on accessing seasonal labour. There is a third trade session on 15 March to discuss the proposed changes that are coming into effect in April. I would encourage you to register to join in. We are also supporting an AHDB webinar on labour in the Ornamentals sector on Tuesday 16 March at 2pm, please register here: Plant movements and labour post EU exit focus of AHDB webinars.
But if managing new Brexit rules wasn’t enough, members have been faced with not one, but two AHDB ballots, and a Red Tractor standards consultation. And we’re only two months into 2021! The NFU consulted widely on Red Tractor and the team at HQ have reflected member feedback in its response to the fresh produce standard proposals. What is critical is that Red Tractor retains its food safety focus and only adopts new standards where evidence backs up the need, and it is practical to implement on farm.
The AHDB Horticulture ballot showed yet again how divided the industry is on the matter. The headline result was clear, and it’s important ministers respect that. But it is equally important that Defra engages with levy payers to determine the next steps. That is why we put the Secretary of State, George Eustice, on the spot at NFU Conference. To his credit, he did not shy away from saying what he thought; that the current system doesn’t work and that a new approach, for those businesses that want it, is required.
The list of issues being dealt with by the NFU is very, very long. Whether it’s seeking seed potato equivalency with the EU, retaining key plant protection products, developing a more effective domestic seasonal recruitment campaign, seeking support and offering guidance on COVID-19 tests for farm workers, working with industry to develop plans for reducing peat use, influencing the terms of new investment schemes such as ELMS or the Farming Investment Fund, securing ongoing support for Producer Organisations, and many, many more. 2021 promises to be another difficult year, but we can have hope that the country is slowly getting on top of COVID-19, and as an industry we will continue to cross off the Brexit issues as and when they arise. I often say this is a sector with a fantastic opportunity for growth. That may seem a distant dream at the moment but I’m encouraged by the energy and determination of the horticulture sector to get through this period of turmoil and I’m sure we will come out of the other side fighting fit for the future.
Chair, horticulture and potatoes board