A smart future for horticulture

NFU Horticulture and Potatoes board chairman, Ali Capper, reflects on the successful AHDB SmartHort event and the challenges for realising the potential of the sector.

Ali Capper on farm September 18_60225

You will have read enough about the chaos in Westminster this week so I do not plan to give it any more airtime. One significant thing that has happened is the announcement on No Deal arrangements for Tariffs and a mostly zero tariff position for fruit and veg, plants and flowers. The NFU has been lobbying hard on this issue and in the event it happens will continue to apply significant pressure to the government to reduce the impact on our members.

I personally cannot understand why bananas, cloves and vanilla would have a tariffs applied but not apples or other fruits and vegetables. I can only assume someone in government is in a muddle about the purpose of tariffs. This does not bode well for the negotiation of future trade agreements.

On a lighter, brighter note AHDB delivered a 2 day SmartHort event last week on the future of Innovation for our sector. It was an excellent couple of days and I’m delighted that AHDB see SmartHort as a long term commitment. The presentations are all online, take a look here. The key take-outs for me were:

1. British Horticulture is on the cusp of a revolution - consumer demand combined with new Artificial Intelligence, robotics, visual technologies, mechanical and technical innovations provide the sector with excellent opportunities to grow and deliver ever higher levels of productivity. And there is clear appetite for transformational change in the sector.

2. R&D expertise and funding is fragmented and there is a real need for “pre-competitive” research work especially on AI and robotics to speed up development. Across the world there are lots of robotics projects underway trying to mimic the dexterity and speed of the human hand and eye. I wish the researchers could all work together - we would have a solution must faster through academic collaboration.

3. The robots are not waiting on the shelf yet - it will be 5-7 years at the earliest before there will be commercial technology ready for our investment.

Finally on the subject of this year’s recruitment of seasonal workers, the government has now published clear communications about recruitment this year, deal or no deal. It’s worth a read and please make sure you share it through your businesses.

Last edited on: 16:03:2019

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