Horticultural careers get boost

A new "horticultural workforce champion" has been charged by the Government to attract the best staff.

Grower Dr Alan Rae will draw up best-practice case studies and wants growers to share their experiences of securing and retaining reliable workers.

He will use £20,000 of funding from the South East England Development Agency to identify the key labour challenges facing growers in the region.

"There are fewer migrant workers and motivating local workers is difficult," he said. "The problem is set to get worse as the UK seeks to become more self-sufficient in the supply of fruit and vegetables."

Painful past experiences of failing to attract or retain suitable local workers had hit growers, while work perceived as difficult and work that was poorly paid put off potential staff, he said.

"I want examples of good labour and career development and aim to gather best-practice examples so growers can learn from each other."

Rae has a doctorate in plant biochemistry and specialises in IT and market research for businesses.

He and his wife Isobel run a 1.2ha nursery at Fletching, West Sussex, to supply organic vegetables to local shops and mail-order ornamentals.

Chairman Shaun Leavey said the region's horticultural sector was vulnerable to fluctuations in availability and quality of migrant and local labour, adding: "This project seeks to identify management techniques which will minimise those risks."

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