Colin Frampton hails region but Donaldsons to cut final crop

The chair of the West Sussex Growers Association (WSGA), Colin Frampton, has hailed the success of a groundbreaking study into the economic value of the region's industry, while speaking of his sadness at seeing his own business produce its last chrysanthemum cut-flower crop.

Addressing the WSGA annual dinner last Friday, Colin Frampton said the study, sponsored by the South East England Development Agency, had "made people outside of our glasshouse sector aware that we had a rather special industry down here".

Frampton, who has returned to chair the group for the second time in 12 years, said in that time there had been huge change in West Sussex's industry, with more than £100m invested in new glasshouse and other related businesses.

"Coastal West Sussex produce is in demand for exemplifying 'home grown' quality and our good light and mild temperatures are magnets for businesses wanting to maximise their seasons," he told 90 attendees present at the event.

Meanwhile, "seismic shifts" were ushering in opportunities through the "great expansion of the grape, soft fruit and garden plant businesses". This new period was, however, witnessing some local industries "passing away", said Frampton, who announced that he and his brother Alan had decided to stop producing chrysanthemum cut flowers.

"In a fortnight's time, the last large commercial crop of chrysanthemums in the UK will be harvested on our nursery - to be replaced by strawberries," said Frampton, whose company Donaldsons has grown chrysanthemums for 24 years. In the past four years, more than 20 acres of chrysanthemums have closed down in West Sussex, despite massive demand and customers requesting British-grown produce, Frampton added.

"It's the usual story of supermarket price pressure, high energy costs and cheap imports wiping out margins. Making further investment is just not worth the risk."

Three new WSGA committees will be pursuing the key issues identified in the association's research - planning and land-use policies, improving relationships with local communities and promoting and improving the image of the industry to young people.

WSGA commended for strategic review

Guest speaker at the annual WSGA dinner was NFU board for horticulture and potatoes chairman Sarah Pettitt. She commended the association for its review of the region's industry.

Its initiative had, she said, given her the idea to push for a similar investigation into production horticulture in the East Midlands. Next will be a study for the West Midlands, which the NFU is pursuing, she added.

"Piece by piece, we will have a map to use to remind policy makers of the importance of this industry. You should be proud because this was where it started," she told WSGA members.

On recent political changes, Pettitt said it was still unclear what the spending review would mean for horticulture. But she welcomed the decision to scrap the Agricultural Wages Board as a "very popular move". She also heralded the retention of the grocery ombudsman.

Pettitt defended the need for the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board to co-locate in one building and urged the Horticultural Development Company to focus on "broad strategy".

"The pressures on its budget are huge, particularly as the Government has pulled out of applied research," she said.

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