Martin Emmett of Walberton and Binsted Nurseries said horticulture needs to think of itself as "more of a movement, like an NGO" to lobby the fill a "vacuum" that will develop as Britain leaves the EU.
Speaking as the James Bruce lecturer at the CIOH conference, Emmett said on issues such as pollinators, he would like to see the horticulture and farming industries more engaged rather than being reactive and defensive to attacks on areas such as neonicotinoid pesticides.
He said there was a "legislative vacuum" around Brexit and that "we need to get better crop protection regulations. Lobbyists are more powered up to get what they want than us – but we have the science".
Emmett added that more automation is required in horticulture and he is "very worried about staff to operate our businesses. With a 1.3 per cent unemployment rate on the south coast we need migrant labour."
He said an AHDB project by student Aran Sena at Kings College London showed promise in using robots for propagation.
Emmett said horticulturists could be "too easily defined by a demographic" and said that while Percy Thrower and Geoffrey Smith inspired him as a boy, ’rocket seed’ astronaut Tim Peake would inspire horticulturists of the future.
He said health and horticulture would be a driver in the future, as would social media as evidenced by Young Hort; urban horticulture, which has "premium payback and is local and healthy"; and by supply chains becoming more vertically integrated with the industry in some ways being redefined as a Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) business.
He added soil science was a "critical skill" that needs addressing, water was a "critical issue" and "we need to treat light as a more valuable resource" by "growing something green there". He said living walls was "the horticulture of the future".