A senior figure in British fresh-produce growing has urged his fellow growers to get behind the "in" campaign as the referendum on the UK's membership of the EU approaches.
DJT Plants managing director Patrick Bastow said: "I don't normally get involved in politics, but I believe the forthcoming referendum is perhaps the most critical political event in my lifetime."
He warned: "UK horticulture could be badly hit if the UK leaves the EU, especially with regards to the availability of Eastern European labour, without which a lot of companies would struggle."
Bastow, who has 26 years' experience of working in UK and European production horticulture including as managing director of AngFlor and Lincolnshire Herbs, said: "Horticulture is very much a European-wide industry. UK Horticulture's relationship with the EU is very deep and I don't think any of us are fully aware just how deep and difficult it will be to separate away."
He urged similarly-minded growers to provide a statement of the benefits of EU membership to their businesses to the Stronger In Europe campaign, for use in campaign materials.
Echoing Bastow's views, British Growers Association chief executive Jack Ward, said: "The benefits of coming out are widely trumpeted, but I think it will leave things equally difficult for growers, only at a UK rather than EU level. Legislation on workers' rights or the environment isn't going to suddenly get swept away. Norway and Switzerland still have to comply with EU legislation but don't have a seat at the table."
This month's Fruit Logistica event in Germany "showed how much effort other countries put in to promoting their produce", he added. "Farming and growing is taken more seriously in other member states and that's reflected in EU policy."
He said of the debate in the UK so far: "There's a danger it's getting polarised around the issue of immigration, with other important issues in danger of going un-debated. There are all sorts of areas where we need a more informed debate. Growers need to think it through."
He pointed out that during a show of hands on the issue at last year's NFU conference, "there was an overwhelming vote to stay - it will be interesting to see if that's still the case this month".
Brexit: UK farming sector by no means looking forward to EU exit
"It is difficult to see exit as beneficial to the UK farming sector," a new study by the Farmer-Scientist Network for the Yorkshire Agricultural Society has concluded, though it stresses that much depends on negotiations between the UK and the EU after a referendum vote to leave, and on subsequent UK policy.
But it points out that HM Treasury "could see Brexit as an opportunity to reduce the overall cost of payments to farmers" and Brexit "would place limits on the availability and use of labour from the EU" while policy on non-EU migrant labour "will be at least as restrictive as it is at present".
A purely domestic Chemicals Regulation Directorate "would have to be guided by approvals of active ingredients by the EU", while suppliers "would be reluctant to develop distinctive products purely for the UK market" and there would be "substantial political pressure" to oppose use of plant-protection products already banned by the EU. Policy differences between the UK’s devolved administrations would "continue, if not increase", particularly on the contentious issue of growing genetically modified plants.