According To Edwards ... Why horticulture needs a different dialogue to farming

The Government will always look on "horticulture" as a sector within "agriculture" and, when the trade effectively gets its message across, the Government recognises "nursery stock" as a non-edible subset of horticulture.

Getting greater understanding than that will be difficult for us, but it is important that we do - and having in place a Defra minister who once worked on one of our leading nurseries should make that possible.

We are different from most of agriculture in some fundamental ways. Obviously, we produce non-edible crops and that takes us out of any conversations about food security. But on the other hand, the nature of our products means that plant health is an issue of great importance and that is an area that rightly demands the Government's careful attention.

Furthermore, the Government needs to be made to recognise that there are other fundamental differences between what we do and what most farmers do. For one thing, nursery stock - along with much of horticulture - is intensive in the way it uses labour. A farm employing just five people would be large, whereas a large nursery will employ far more than that. We need to ensure that the Government recognises the value of nurseries as employers.

The intensive nature of nursery stock production is important in other ways, too. A large farm covers thousands of acres. It might get bigger still if it takes over a neighbour, but the resulting giant will not produce much more food than the total land area was producing before.

The UK has a finite amount of agricultural land. Should our farming cousins want to produce more food for the nation then they have to do it through efficiencies. That is a fine ambition and some farmers are aiming for it.

However, they are not offering the Government a quantum jump in the amount of food they produce. Neither are they offering the Government a significant move in the balance of what we produce and what we consume.

Whereas we nurserymen can make that offer. With investment, a few acres of agricultural land can be properly converted into a significant production area capable of replacing imports.

Horticulture, and within that sector nursery stock, needs to have a different conversation with the Government to that of the rest of agriculture. We are more ambitious and, in all honesty, we have more to offer.

Tim Edwards is chairman of Boningale Nurseries

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