NFU horticulture board chairman calls on industry to embrace technology

The horticulture industry must grasp science and technology to survive a possible repeat of last summer's flooding and avoid being "strangled" by red tape, according to an industry leader.

NFU horticulture board chairman Richard Hirst summed up the challenges for 2008 in a New Year message, saying last year's floods showed how "fragile our productive base can be, with the long-term impact yet to be felt".

But he added: "In sectors able to take advantage of the technology to protect crops, the worst effects were mitigated. This shows how important it is that production-related research is not neglected.

"Nothing strangles innovation and dynamism in horticulture more than unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape. We will continue to work with the Government to help it meet its target of cutting regulation by 25 per cent by 2010."

Hirst reckoned fruit and vegetables would enjoy a rising profile as health rose up the agenda. He thought flowers and plants would tap into the desire for well-being, and buying British would contribute to lower carbon footprints.

He said: "This year will be pivotal for horticulture, and improvements in returns must match those in agricultural sectors."

L The NFU has expressed disappointment that the consultation exercise on Single Payment Schemes (SPS), expected to begin before Christmas, has been delayed until the beginning of this year.

The consultation is examining the criteria under which any new entitlements will be allocated in respect of land under orchards and nursery crops.

The NFU said the delay might be down to the fact that the EU wine reform gives the opportunity for vineyards and other permanent crops to become eligible under SPS and this clearly affects what the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) does.

At the present time, the council and commission regulations for the reform of the EU Fruit & Vegetable Regime are known, but there is little more than the council regulation for the reform of the Wine Regime on the table. This could hold up the consultation and jeopardise the implementation of the Defra decisions post-consultation, leaving SPS 2009 at risk of a fudge, the NFU warned.

A representative said: "We will continue to put pressure on Defra to ensure this is not the case."

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