From the chairman: Is clarity just around the corner?

Ali Capper sits on step while new trees are being planted at her orchard

In this article, NFU horticulture and potatoes board chairman Ali Capper reflects on numerous areas of uncertainty in the sector, including trade, seasonal labour, and AHDB.

She writes:

It’s been a long time coming, but we are inching closer to knowing whether the UK and EU will reach a trade deal ('skinny' or otherwise) and along with it some much needed clarity on how our trading relationship will work from 1 January. If we liken it to a rollercoaster, which we often do, the negotiations are about to take the final loop before the cars slow to a stop and then we’ll discover whether we feel a sense of relief or sick to the stomach. For the horticulture sector, our trading relationship with the EU will change no matter the outcome as new border controls and phytosanitary rules come into effect. That’s why the NFU continues to seek clarity on the issues that matter the most to our members and regularly update our website with the latest guidance. We’ll also be running a webinar in the next few weeks to give members a chance to hear from us first hand and raise questions on anything that is unclear.

Trade aside, we’re getting closer to the point where the government must set out its position on seasonal workers in 2021. I’m tired of saying it, and no doubt you are tired of hearing it, but the case has been made many, many times; what we need now is the decision. The NFU is applying pressure right at the top of government, and I must thank Minette Batters and Tom Bradshaw for making sure this is always on the political agenda despite so many competing priorities within Number 10.

Another area of clarity relates to the future of AHDB Horticulture. With a ballot expected to take place in January, and the release of the AHDB strategy before the end of this year, growers should have the information they need on which to make an informed vote – that is to keep the statutory levy and progress with the new strategy, or to vote against the statutory levy and put an end to the research and PPP application programmes. Regardless of the outcome of the vote, it will be down to ministers to determine AHDB’s future, so we may soon know how growers feel but not necessarily how ministers will respond.

Finally, I am encouraged by talk this week of a COVID-19 vaccine seemingly close to being available. This is an area of clarity that transcends far beyond the horticulture sector, of course, but with talk of the vaccine potentially being distributed before this year is out, we can only hope that it plays an important part in getting life back to normal; not only protecting people’s lives but their livelihoods too.

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