Wales pushes ahead as England fears cuts

A twist of fate sees us report this week on encouraging plans to give the horticulture industry in Wales a serious push - just as industry leaders in England fear plans for the abolition of regional development agencies (RDAs) could leave big gaps in such provision in some of UK horticulture's most important heartlands.

In particular, concerns are focused on the south east and east of England, where budget cuts are expected to fall most heavily, leaving a question mark over the likely availability of funds for key horticulture business research in the slimline coffers of the proposed replacement Local Enterprise Partnerships (see p3).

A key driver of the newly drawn-up strategic action plan for the horticulture industry in Wales is food security and the need to meet growing demand for local produce (see p21). Another irony that will not be lost on industry figures such as the chair of Defra's South East Region Sustainable Farming & Food Board Shaun Leavey, who cites meeting the recommendations of Food 2030 as one of the key challenges if access to the RDA-style funds were to be lost to his English region.

Also at stake is the kind of groundbreaking research that was carried out by the West Sussex Growers' Association into the future of the glasshouse sector at the end of last year. Thanks to the figures unearthed by the research, representatives of the glasshouse sector in West Sussex are now able to put the case for its critical importance to the region to the relevant local authorities when seeking support for new developments, with the full weight of accurate, up-to-date information and relevant statistics behind them.

That research was part funded by the South East England Development Agency - as was a more recent study by glasshouse grower Dr Alan Rae into solutions leading growers are pioneering to build more sustainable horticultural workforces.

A swift indication of support for the efforts of key horticulture figures to ensure our fragmented sector does not lose yet another lifeline in the rush to cuts and re-organisation, would show that those who promised in the run-up to the election to put the "f" back into Defra meant what they said.

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