What will post-Brexit pesticides authorisation and capital support for fresh produce look like?

The likely impact on seasonal labour has dominated discussions of the consequences of withdrawal from the EU for UK production horticulture.

Image: HW
Image: HW

But Fruit Focus also heard of the possible impact of this on two other key areas - growers' access to crop-protection products and support for capital investment.

NFU senior plant health adviser Chris Hartfield says: "The Great Repeal Bill will translate EU legislation into UK law, so on the day we leave, things will be much the same as the day before. But going forward there are opportunities to improve on crop protection. It’s important that there is no lessening on consumer and environmental protection. But things can be improved for growers in how we interpret and implement it when it becomes UK law, in areas such as the EU’s hazard-based cut-off criteria."

There will be practical efficiencies too, he forecasts. "We will shed the need for collective decision-making as measures will no longer require agreement with 27 other countries. We can also look at the different aspects of regulation in parallel, unlike a lot of the EU process, which is done sequentially, allowing us to get through an application dossier in a year rather than two or three. That could provide significant opportunities for UK growers if they had access to products before their overseas competitors."

Mutual recognition of products with authorities elsewhere in the world, such as the USA and Canada, offers further opportunities. "That would give our growers access to the same range as those growers have," he adds.

"The Government doesn’t want to be seen to be lowering standards. But at the moment it’s not a level playing field as British growers can’t use products that other growers in the EU can. Let's at least bring ourselves up to the same point as our competitors."

Visiting the show, farming minister George Eustice told Horticulture Week: "We are looking carefully at crop-protection authorisations going forward. When we leave the EU, as well as authorising products, which we already do with the Chemical Regulations Directorate, we will also be authorising the active ingredients that go into those products. In some cases, where we judge that the EU has departed from the science and made a decision maybe more influenced by politics, we will be free to take a different decision.

"In other areas, our interpretation of the science leads us to a more cautious viewpoint than the EU. So it will be different, but we are very clear that we should base these judgements on a clear assessment of the risks, rather than theoretical hazards. But obviously we won’t take risks with our environment or with public safety."

Also at Fruit Focus, the British Growers Association (BGA) launched a report recommending that the current producer organisation match-funding scheme, which is the EU’s main vehicle for supporting investment in fresh-produce growing, should be continued post-Brexit, but with improvements.

The association represents the interests of UK producer organisations, which are responsible for 35 per cent of UK fruit and vegetable production, as well as individual crop associations

Chief executive Jack Ward said: "A new and enhanced scheme could go a long way towards helping the industry to compete and grow its share of the UK market, while meeting the objectives set out by the Government. On the other hand, the absence of an effective scheme would put British growers at a distinct disadvantage to their counterparts within the EU."

The report calls for a single scheme to operate across the UK, with "improved clarity, simplicity of operation and a reduction in the administrative burden", as well as greater flexibility in what can be invested in, with the aim of making producer organisation membership "more attractive to a larger and wider cross-section of growers".

"The Government is looking for ideas for post-Brexit agriculture," said Ward. "Under the PO scheme you have to be able to demonstrate collective benefit and you are audited on how the money has been spent, so there is a high level of control. It offers a pretty good blueprint for support to other sectors too. Collaboration is the business model for most of global agriculture — more so elsewhere than here. I hope the minister will see this and say to his officials: ‘Take this forward.’"

Ward’s BGA colleague Peter Crowe added: "It’s a relatively easy win. The cost right now is €40m a year, so just over one per cent of the €3.2bn from the CAP spent in the UK."

Also speaking at the show, Berry Gardens chief operating officer Nick Allen, a member of the report’s steering group, said: "The fruit and vegetable PO scheme is still the main source of capital investment such as new tunnels and growing and refrigeration systems for our growers."

Chair of the soft-fruit grower group Alistair Brooks added: "We did an audit of all our growers’ cooling facilities to identify those that had to invest. In a warm year like this, that has delivered."

Also on the subject of producer organisations, Eustice said: "If you have an application in before the UK leaves, we will honour that. For after that we are working hard on new policies. POs have an important role to play, particularly in vegetables and soft fruit."

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