Opinion: Edwards On... Plant supply and health

Increasingly, and rightly, plant health/biosecurity is being recognised as something of which all of us involved in plant supply must be aware.

Those of us who grow, trade and deliver plants clearly have the greatest responsibilities, but we all have parts to play. A helpful comparison can be made with the world of health and safety.

These days it is recognised that everyone in business has health and safety responsibilities, and they do not change depending on the industry in which you work. However, since risk is not always the same, different industries take different approaches to the subject.

Landscape contractors work on building sites, where statistics show that danger abounds. They do not get access to a site without demonstrating that they understand their responsibilities.

They build into their processes and systems a means of recognising and discharging those responsibilities.

All staff are trained in the subject and some will have specialist qualifications. A professional body has evolved to provide relevant training and recognition of health and safety professionals.

My staff do not work in the construction environment we supply, we do not face the same level of risk and we do not have to demonstrate the same level of awareness as our customers. But our customers expect us to understand the basics — in fact, they will need to satisfy themselves that we do.

Of course, as a nursery producer I clearly have responsibilities in this area. I take them seriously and I can demonstrate the fact, albeit not to the same level as a contractor working on a commercial building site.

Plant health makes for an interesting comparison, only here it is the nursery that works in the high-risk environment and will be expected to lead the way with professional standards.

We nurseries are expected to fully understand our biosecurity responsibilities. We will need to develop systems and processes that demonstrate we fully discharge those responsibilities and we will need to train our staff to ensure that they are capable of playing whatever roles to which they are appointed.

I imagine a professional body will ultimately evolve and we will all be keen to employ staff with the relevant qualifications.

But it will not end with nurseries. Contractors, retailers and landscape architects must also play their part. Biosecurity must be recognised throughout the plant supply chain. In the future there will be a place for a plant health professional in all horticultural businesses.

Tim Edwards is chairman of Boningale Nurseries

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