West Midlands Conservative MEP Anthea McIntyre brought together figures from across horticulture on 20 November to help draft the report on technological solutions for sustainable agriculture for the European Parliament, following the success of an earlier horticultural report that she submitted.
"Farmers recognise and appreciate the need for innovation," said McIntyre. "Many of them see technology - genetic, mechanical and increasingly digital - as the only realistic way of meeting the present challenges.
"The long-term challenges of sustainable agriculture must be met with a joined-up approach from the EU Commission and member states to ensure support for technological innovation, a regulatory framework based on scientific evidence, continuity of basic and applied research and the development of agri-related skills."
Several specialists at a meeting held at Harper Adams University in Shropshire were invited to redraft specific passages on areas where they have competence. Since then the draft has been submitted for approval by the Parliament's agricultural committee, before being presented to the full Parliament in the new year.
"These own-initiative reports feed into the policy process and influence the overall direction of travel," McIntyre explained, adding: "The new Commission has a much more helpful attitude to regulation and understands the need to reduce the administrative burden."
She said of her earlier report: "I was happy with what we managed to get through the European Parliament. There are various texts that reference it, including European Public Health Alliance's report on the fruit and vegetable regime and Ireland's Mushroom Sector Development Plan." She added: "Also, a Minor Use Fund especially for speciality crops (recommended in the report) has already happened."
Jointly funded initially by the EU and the governments of France, Germany and the Netherlands, the EU Minor Uses Co-ordination Facility began work in September, providing financial support for the authorisation of plant-protection products and biological control agents for "minor uses" including commercial horticulture, for which the authorisation costs are high relative to likely returns.
"There is also the possibility to contribute in kind, for example by making facilities available, which I understood the UK would be doing," McIntyre pointed out.
Updating the meeting on other horticulture-related EU issues, McIntyre's parliamentary assistant Sean Kelly said: "On endocrine disruptors, we continue to put the case for a scientific and evidence-led approach - otherwise many active substances will be banned. But we don't expect concrete proposals from the Commission on this until the middle of next year."
He added that the Commission "has taken forward the horticultural report's views" on reform for the fruit and vegetable regime, which funds modernisation of the industry through producer organisations, "so to that extent it has been a success", he said. "But we are seeing 'simplification' as a cover for introducing more burdensome requirements. We want it to be geared to market orientation rather than concentration of supply, and that doesn't appear to have happened."
McIntyre added that publication of the Commission's report on reforming the scheme "seems to get put back all the time". She said of the Government's National Living Wage plans, due to take effect from April: "It's not reasonable for the British taxpayer to be subsidising industry - the public think if you go on paying benefits to workers you are supporting the bosses, and I think that's fair." But she acknowledged: "Combined with the loss of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme it will be hard for some in horticulture to live with."