NFU24: Setting the political agenda for UK horticulture

21 February 2024

An image of the panel at the horticulture commodity session at NFU Conference 2024.

The focus at this year’s Horticulture breakout session was on the relaunch of the NFU’s Horticulture Growth Strategy, and that included plenty of discussion around the Seasonal Workers Scheme, crop protection, planning and fairness in the supply chain.

NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board chair Martin Emmett kicked-off the session explaining some of the main points in the NFU's revised strategy, which aims to set the political agenda for UK horticulture.

It highlights the top 10 policy areas which can unlock barriers and enable growth, including access to labour and crop protection products, a more enabling planning framework, energy price support, and future horticulture funding.

Read the revised strategy: NFU Horticulture Strategy builds on sector progress

In his presentation, Mr Emmett looked at what progress has been made and reiterated that as we headed towards a general election, it was imperative that all political parties got behind this strategy and helped drive the sector forward.

He highlighted three areas in particular, the first of which was the need to address unfair trading practices and for improved transparency in the supply chain and he urgently called on members to give their feedback to the Defra supply chain fairness review, which closes imminently.

Long term challenge

“This has been a long-term challenge for the whole sector, and what we really want is for government to use its powers in the Agriculture Act to address unfair practices in the supply chain.

“For Defra to do that really depends on the feedback that goes into their review. This was a major ask by the NFU to get this review under way."

Another key area is planning, said Mr Emmett, as so often this is the final barrier where things fall down.

“There can be the greatest prospect of building that reservoir or new greenhouse and just when you need to put in that investment, planning produces these hurdles.”

A major barrier, said Mr Emmett, is that if you want to build a significant development you have to build into the plan a net increase in biodiversity and “in real terms that usually means more land or buying offsets.

“Critically, we need an announcement on next year’s seasonal worker allowance now and we need that to be accompanied with a rolling five-year plan.”

NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board chair Martin Emmett

So essentially if we want to try to build greenhouses, we have a situation where we are facing a tax that is effectively designed for big commercial and housing developments and we all know our industry is not designed to be able to bear those type of costs.

“Give an exemption to greenhouses,” he added, “it’s an area we are really pushing forward on. We need more consistency and more guidelines from the government.”

Seasonal worker asks

Mr Emmett then moved on to the Seasonal Workers Scheme and the frustrations at government not releasing their worker allocation for 2025.

“This is not tenable; we cannot go from year to year not being clear what seasonal workers allocation we will be getting. If this industry is going to be sustainable and grow, we will need more workers in the future not less.

“Growers are already making those plans for next year and we simply can’t just keep waiting. Our ask is for a five-year rolling plan and we must have that to build certainty into our industry and make the investments that we need.

“Critically, we need an announcement on next year’s seasonal worker allowance now and we need that to be accompanied with a rolling five-year plan.”

Mr Emmett concluded: “Our revised Horticulture Growth Strategy sets out the key government and supply chain policies which need to be addressed in order to deliver that growth. As we head towards a general election, it is imperative that all political parties get behind this strategy and help drive the sector forward.”

Meet the speakers from this session

Lee Abbey

Chief adviser (Crop and plant production)

Lee has been a policy adviser at the NFU for more than 18 years and leads the Horticulture and Potatoes, Combinable Crops, and Plant Health teams.

He works closely with the national boards for Horticulture & Potatoes and Combinable Crops to develop and deliver their key strategic aims.

Martin Emmett

NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board chair

Martin was elected chair of the NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board in 2022. 

He is a director of Tristram Plants, part of the Farplants co-operative which grows and markets over 2000 plant varieties and generates more than £50 million annual sales through retail.

Emma Crosby

External Affairs Manager, National Farmers Union

As External Affairs Manager in the NFU's London team, Emma is responsible for delivering the external affairs strategy, building collaborative relationships with key external politicians, civil servants and stakeholders, and raising the NFU’s campaigning and lobbying profile in Westminster.

Derek Wilkinson

NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board co-optee

Derek was vice chair of the NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board between 2018 and 2024. He is Managing Director of Sandfields Farms Ltd (part of The Shropshire Group).

He is Managing Director of Sandfields Farms Ltd (part of the G’s Group), growing over 1600ha of salads and vegetables for the major retailers, plus a West Africa farm business in Senegal which produces over 400 ha of winter salads for the UK and EU market.

Tim Rooke

NFU Potato Policy Group chair | NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board vice chair

Tim was elected as chair of the NFU Potato Policy Group in 2022. He is a third generation farmer who grows 600 acres of processing and crisping potatoes in Ryedale, North Yorkshire.

He farms in partnership with his brother and has a mixture of tenanted and owned farms. He also grows wheat, oats, and oilseed rape.

Previously, he has been a member of United Potato Farmers Limited, a director of Alpha Group, and member of the AHDB potatoes marketing group.

Simon Conway

Chief Executive, Horticulture Crop Protection Ltd

Simon comes from a family farming background and has worked within the Fresh Produce and Horticulture sector for 35 years.

He had a long career with Vitacress Ltd. where he was Commercial Director and then Managing Director at Vitacress Herbs Ltd and more recently Vitacress Salads Ltd.

He was Vice Chairman of West Sussex Growers association for 4 years and is current Chair of British Tomato Growers Association.

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