Impact on horticulture business key to Brexit vote

HW survey finds commercial health and regulations at heart of growers' debate.

Ornamental growers have come out marginally in favour of remaining in Europe in a closely run Horticulture Week online poll.

With the Brexit vote on 23 June, HW asked growers 'Do you think leaving the EU would be beneficial or detrimental to your business?'

Of 50 ornamental growers whose responses HW analysed, those that thought leaving would be beneficial numbered 34 per cent, while those that saw Brexit as detrimental to business was at 38 per cent. No difference was at 24 per cent and don't knows were two per cent.

There was 54 per cent of growers who wanted to stay in the EU and 46 who wanted to leave.

More enforceable plant regulations was cited by several growers as a reason to leave.

Some 52 per cent of respondents thought there would be fewer plant health issues in this country if Britain left the EU, while 24 per cent said there would be no effect and 20 per cent believed there would be more risks.

Comments received included: "We may find that EU manufacturers may not want to market or approve new products for the UK market. The UK government could force UK growers to reduce peat use further. Plant Breeders Rights may be affected if the UK came out of the various EU breeder protection organisations. EU wide registration of a new plant may be more difficult."

Opponents said: "I believe it (Brexit) will enable ornamental horticulture to increase prices to sensible levels in relation to product hardiness and quality."

Another grower said: "EU regulations are strangling small non-exporting businesses for no reason in most cases. Leaving could save many from going out of business."

One grower commented: "Pests and diseases would decrease. Stock would have longer shelf life and there would be hardier plants for matching the soil base. Protection and building of critical agricultural low paid unskilled jobs for UK citizens especially in rural communities. However we need to collaborate more in order to succeed. Working together is the key to UK survival as well as sustainable growth for future generations."

Some 66 per cent said leaving would have no effect on staff sourcing, but 29 per cent said it would. Half said plant prices would stay the same but 31 per cent thought leaving would raise plant prices.

And half thought plant imports would fall and 42 per cent believed they would stay the same. No-one believed imports would rise if Britain left the EU.

But 34 per cent believed Brexit would decrease exports, while 42 per cent thought they would stay the same and just four per cent believed they would rise.

Other comments included: "I see the permanent damage to our exchange rate as having the biggest impact. With the exception of a few UK cutting producers all raw materials are euro or dollar priced in their initial state: plastics, substrate, seeds, cuttings and labels. The labour market is short of skilled employees, makes transient labour more restricted and many companies will not have the work force required."

Another grower said Brexit would mean a "long-term drop in prosperity (which) would reduce disposable income".

One grower added: "It (Brexit) would promote more young plant growers to supply the UK market." Most edible crop growers surveyed believed staying in would benefit business (41 per cent) or have no effect (25 per cent). But two-thirds of those surveyed still wanted to leave.

Two-fifths believed staff sourcing would become more difficult and half thought leaving would increase profits. A quarter thought leaving the EU would decrease exports, while 18 per cent believed they would increase. Two-thirds said imports would decrease if Britain left the EU and half thought plant health risks would be fewer.

In or out? Defra minister George Eustice claims a new free-trade agreement option would help competitiveness

A grower-turned-MP in the pro-Brexit camp says that if the UK quits the EU the industry could target funds and regulation to help horticulture and reintroduce a SAWS-like worker scheme.

Defra minister George Eustice said: "We would put in place a new free-trade agreement to replace the single market, which would involve spending the same amount on growing, agriculture and the environment. But we would spend it better and more effectively.

"We would commit more money to knowledge transfer, promoting competitiveness and science and technology to ensure we could compete with the best in the world. We would also put in place generous provision around work permits, more akin to the SAWS."

The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) was intended to allow growers and farmers to bring foreign people to the UK to engage in seasonal and agricultural work. It was designed to address shortages of labour from within the UK but was abolished in 2010.

He insisted: "Taking control of immigration doesn’t mean pulling up the drawbridge to keep people out, but we’re in a position right now in soft-fruit growing, for example, where people do all the work recruiting and when the workers get here they drift away into other, easier, lines of work."

Eustice, who studied commercial horticulture at Writtle College in the early 1990s and went into his family fruit farm for nine years before embarking on his political career, warned of the threat of another financial crisis around July time. This could spread "contagion" throughout the EU.

He added: "There are also regulatory threats and the politicisation around authorisation of pesticides and active chemicals. The problem with issues such as glyphosate is they attract very vocal campaigners across the EU.

"Although we have campaigners in the UK as well, we have always taken a more evidence-based approach and come to the view glyphosate should be authorised. Nations such as Germany tend to attract and be more influenced by lobbying."

The Conservative MP for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle said: "The key thing about horticulture is it’s never been a heavily subsidised industry; it’s very market oriented, stands on its own two feet and doesn’t get much from the CAP."

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