Growers let down by lack of support

In a poignant message to fellow growers, brassica grower and chairman of the NFU's board for horticulture and potatoes Sarah Pettitt wrote last week of the financial and emotional devastation that comes from watching many months' worth of investment and crop husbandry "hopelessly rot away in the field".

Driving around Lincolnshire last week, she was "staggered" by the devastation she saw. "Hundreds upon hundreds of acres of cauliflowers and other winter vegetable crops such as purple sprouting broccoli rotting away on some of the most fertile soils in Europe - crops that won't see a knife or harvester this year."

Now that the severity of losses to production horticulture businesses in the regions hardest hit by this winter's unprecedented low temperatures are becoming fully apparent, so is the likelihood that some businesses will be forced to exit the market. To lose just one would be a tragedy - particularly when the loss of a business to horticulture because of this kind of event would, with the right political support, be preventable.

In the same way that well-nurtured crops can better withstand the impact of pests and diseases, so too can well-nurtured horticulture businesses withstand the unexpected. The problem is that while those inside the industry are doing their damnedest to cope with the inherent risks involved in operating in the sector, those outside it - the policy makers - from whom growers have the right to expect full support are continuing to fall down on the job.

So we have promises to cut red tape. But yet more delays in payments to producer organisations. We have lip service paid to the need for investment in R&D following the publication of yet another report on food security - while growers remain in the dark over the impact of the EU clampdown on crop protection products in 2012. We have a Government that is meant to be business-friendly but through its proposed peat policy is in danger of exposing UK growers to unfair competition from European operators.

What we need from policy makers are positive policies that support production horticulture businesses rather than make their managers' lives even more difficult. We're still waiting.


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