When the Government's Food Strategy tasked Defra with developing a 'world-leading horticulture strategy for England' the NFU seized the opportunity to deliver a 10 point plan, detailing action needed by government to grow the sector.
The NFU believes there are significant opportunities across the entire sector to deliver improvements in productivity, environmental outputs and global competitiveness.
'Shelves are empty'
Growth of UK horticulture has been a long term ambition of the NFU, but one which has been undermined significantly by national and global events (Brexit transition, COVID pandemic, and Ukraine conflict), all of which has brought the importance of food security sharply into focus.
NFU President Minette Batters described the horticulture sector as “ambitious”, but insisted that this ambition “needs the full support of government”.
“That’s why today we are setting out the key priorities needed to stabilise the challenges facing the sector in the short term and help to deliver long term growth and a thriving, world-class horticulture sector in the future,” Minette explained.
Referencing the recent shortages which have sparked conversations around empty supermarket shelves, Minette highlighted how this is “a reality we’ve been warning government about for many months”.
“As outlined in our strategy, the horticulture sector can deliver more than nutritious food; growers are well placed to contribute to energy security for the nation and help to reach the industry’s net zero by 2040 target.”
“The consequences of undervaluing growers can be seen on supermarket shelves right now – without urgent action there are real risks that empty shelves may become more commonplace.”
NFU President Minette Batters
10 building blocks for growing success
The NFU has identified ten critical building blocks that will be necessary for growers to develop and grow the industry:
1. Access to labour
A minimum 5-year rolling seasonal worker scheme, with suitable length visas, no wage differential from the National Living Wage or unrealistic cap on worker numbers.
2. Access to affordable and sustainable energy supplies
Urgent recognition of energy intensive horticulture sectors within the Energy and Trade Intensive Industries (ETII) scheme.
3. Access to crop protection
An enabling crop protection policy which ensures the UK is not disadvantaged against its global competitors, plus security of the EAMU programme beyond March 2023, previously funded by horticulture levies and run by AHDB.
4. Access to water
As the sector is vulnerable to drought and the challenges from reductions / revocations of abstraction licences, greater investment is needed in infrastructure to collect, store and distribute water both on farms and within and between regions.
5. Access to sustainable, growing media
A ban on the use of peat in commercial production is not the right approach. There is need for industry/ government collaboration to move towards peat free in an environmentally and commercially sustainable way.
6. Productivity investment
It is critical that a replacement to the EU Fruit & Veg Aid Scheme is finalised as soon as possible, which is more inclusive than the previous EU scheme, and that there are no further delays in its development.
7. Enabling import controls for plants and plant products
Minimising the barriers and costs for importing plants and plant materials - the foundations of all horticultural production - while maintaining biosecurity.
8. Fairness in the supply chain
It is critical that growers can have open discussions and fair negotiations on cost price inflation with their customers.
9. Access to environmental funding schemes
Better recognition of horticulture is required in ELMs and Countryside Stewardship that reflects the variety of growing systems across the sector.
10. An enabling planning policy
Greater consistency is needed in planning decisions to support - not restrict - horticultural businesses' ability to grow. This includes the provision of high quality, short term accommodation of seasonal workers.
Growth of UK horticulture relies upon a strong foundation, and policies which are enabling, rather than restricting. There are numerous building blocks which underpin the production of UK grown fruit, veg, plants and flowers, without which no business can realistically operate.
The government policies which impact on these building blocks may not always be farming specific, and are impacted by wider economical and political influences.
If these policies are not right, sector growth will be prevented before it can even begin.
NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board chair Martin Emmett warned that “for too long, we’ve only had warm words from government about how important the horticulture sector is but no detail on how it wants to achieve growth”.
“Our strategy sets out the key cornerstones and actions government could take to enable growth for the sector, including incentives to promote investment in water infrastructure, long-term certainty on accessing seasonal labour, greater investment, and supportive national and local planning policy.
“The time to act is now.”