Strong voice for horticulture industry now more vital than ever

Labour, breeders' rights, plant health and trade barriers among the key issues.

Parliament: industry aiming to influence policymakers - image: HW
Parliament: industry aiming to influence policymakers - image: HW

Lobbying to get the horticulture industry's issues across to politicians is intensifying ahead of the general election on 8 June and, with farming policy in turmoil following Brexit, industry leaders agree that strong representation is more important than ever. The NFU has set up its own Brexit teams, while industry groups are seeking to influence policymakers writing election manifestos.

HTA policy adviser David Brown says the industry is getting its message across on areas such as labour, plant breeders' rights, plant health and trade barriers. He was a witness at the recent Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (EFRA) labour enquiry and has been representing the industry at plant health meetings.

The EFRA committee report criticised the Government for not reassuring the industry on supply post-Brexit, with lack of commitment to a future Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) and measuring future labour needs areas of contention. Brown says the industry needs to keep up pressure on a new set of ministers, EFRA committee members and civil servants after the election.

Lobbyists agree that the snap election means there is little time to get messages across. "I'm not convinced that anything is falling through the cracks," says Brown. "We're busy but getting the message across."

Key industry requirements

Brown adds that the most important requirements of the horticulture industry are that the Government ensures it will "still be able to trade post-Brexit", it is able to meet labour requirements and plant-health regulations do not stop trade. On breeders' rights and PVR, he says it is crucial UK growers can continue to grow what they want after Brexit.

HTA horticulture head Raoul Curtis-Machin would like to see a dedicated horticulture team at Defra and more recognition at ministerial level. Although he would like a minister solely for horticulture, the campaign is at least for more Defra staff specifically working on horticulture.

The HTA would also like support for strategic research and development. Curtis-Machin says the Horticulture Innovation Partnership research strategy is "lying dormant" but he would like to see it supported by Defra to come to fruition.

Labour is another big issue, with the HTA wanting "some kind of SAWS". Education is another campaigning area, with Curtis-Machin "still horrified horticulture and agriculture are not mentioned in schools".

The ornamentals round table is "exactly what the Government is looking for" in terms of a lobbying body, he adds. Its 12 asks of Government is being updated, but he argues: "A lot of progress has been made on most of the asks," including Sunday trading. Other asks are for "new mechanisms to buy UK-grown plants" and financial incentives to "help level the playing field between the UK and its European competitors".

Meanwhile, in its 132-page Building our Industrial Strategy green paper, the Government is looking to work with sectors large and small, mature and emerging, to "transform and upgrade" them. As part of the new strategy, industry sectors are set the challenge of organising themselves behind strong leadership and coming up with a plan to improve and grow, under the interlinking 10 pillars underpinning the national strategy.

All industry lobbying work "is aimed to grow the market for plants, garden centres and landscapers," says Curtis-Machin. "We have produced a sector innovation strategy to develop new products and services. We have a levy board, which is focused on near-market R&D, but our sector currently does not have a dedicated strategic R&D body. This is something we want out of any sector deal."

The science of horticulture is not recognised as one of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects, which have a strong presence in the curriculum, he says. "Not having this recognition for horticulture represents a barrier to ensuring our future skills pipeline."

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