The Horticultural Sector Committee’s ‘Sowing the seeds: A blooming English horticultural sector’ report said that UK growing was at a crossroads, and had been ‘under-prioritised and unappreciated by policymakers’, leaving holes in the UK’s food security.
Among recommendations, the committee called for government to ‘put horticulture on the curriculum’ and to produce a workforce strategy, to address seasonal labour uncertainties, and to urgently conduct and publish the promised review of fairness in horticulture supply chains.
It also called for responses to a raft of outstanding reports on automation, labour, taxation and the seasonal workers visa scheme, with Peers endorsing NFU calls for a rolling five-year scheme and an extension of visas to nine months.
Elsewhere, the committee pressed for joined-up, longer-term thinking on a range of fronts, with a dedicated horticulture minister and an overarching government horticulture strategy, something that had been promised in the National Food Strategy and backed by the NFU before the idea fell out of favour with Minsters.
Many of the recommendations align with the NFU’s own Horticulture Growth Strategy, which calls for ten key building blocks with the aim of minimising future supply chain disruption and delivering long-term growth.
Recommendations at a glance
Peers also said growers should have access to options under ELMs (Environmental Land Management schemes) and to relief under the ETII (Energy and Trade Intensive Industries), while the GSCOP (Groceries Supply Code of Practice) should be ‘refreshed’ to cover additional issues and the ornamentals sector.
Meanwhile, the committee called for the Farming Equipment and Technology Fund to be redesigned to include 100% grants to boost the uptake of technology amongst smaller horticultural businesses.
It said there should also be suitable funding for collaborative groups of growers, including a tailored replacement for the EU Vegetable Aid Scheme.
Peers also said that the government should work closely with the sector to ‘establish a realistic list of exemptions’ to forthcoming peat-use legislation, ‘to allow more time for R&D innovation into alternative growing media’.
The report was broadly welcomed by the NFU, although there were concerns that a lengthy section on the potential for worker exploitation in the seasonal visa scheme, complete with recommendations for spot checks and systematic inspections, erroneously suggested endemic problems. The NFU will respond to the committee there.
“British shoppers want more home-grown produce and plants, and we could grow more if we had the right political and supply chain policies in place.”
NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board chair Martin Emmett
Government support needed
NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board Chair Martin Emmett urged the government to respond quickly and thoroughly to the report – and to several others affecting horticulture that are still awaiting responses.
He said: “While soaring costs and supply chain challenges are significantly impacting confidence within the sector, British growers have an ambition for growth. But we cannot do it without government support. The government’s own food strategy, published in 2022, implies it shares this ambition, but we must see this backed up with tangible actions.”
“In its food strategy, the government promised to deliver a long-term strategy for the sector and highlighted the many benefits of increasing UK fruit and veg production, both for the health of the nation and for its food security.
“Yet we continue to see a contraction in the sector due to soaring costs rather than government action which will give growers the confidence to invest and boost production.
“British shoppers want more home-grown produce and plants, and we could grow more if we had the right political and supply chain policies in place. The government needs to show that it champions this vision and set out its plan for overcoming the many barriers that are holding UK horticulture back.”