Guidance planned before EU vote

Industry bodies keen to reflect members' Brexit wishes

Growers: some guidance will be offered by ornamentals representative bodies ahead of EU referendum on 23 June - image: HW
Growers: some guidance will be offered by ornamentals representative bodies ahead of EU referendum on 23 June - image: HW

Ornamentals representative bodies are planning to offer some guidance to growers ahead of the EU referendum on 23 June.

HTA horticulture head Raoul Curtis-Machin said the association has to be careful to reflect members' wishes by asking whether they want it to take a stance on the issue. At the moment members are 50/50 on staying in or leaving, he added.

The HTA declared a neutral position on the referendum this month after responses from 169 members (12 per cent of membership) saw "no overall majority". Based on that the association will remain neutral so as not to "alienate the views of members. Working with other organisations we will endeavour to provide a balanced picture of the pros and cons in the lead-up to the vote."

The NFU has commissioned agricultural research institute LEI at Wageningen University in the Netherlands to consider the impact of Brexit on agriculture, but industry bodies have yet to ascertain the impact on ornamentals.

A HW poll of 30 growers at the British Plant Fair this March found 20 per cent wanted to leave, half to stay and the rest were undecided. In a further HW poll of Garden Industry Manufacturers Association members, 70 per cent said they wanted to stay in, 15 per cent wanted to leave and 15 per cent were undecided.

Curtis-Machin added that despite being a non- subsidy industry, unlike agriculture, many ornamental growers still believe in the EU. "There are pros and cons," he said. "We wouldn't like to say either way. Different scenarios work in different ways. For those trading a lot with Europe it has different implications. If evidence comes back that members want us to take a stance, we can act. At this stage we're on the fence." Positions could change as the vote closes, as they did with the Scottish independence vote in 2015.

The NFU is backing staying in Europe after commissioning Wageningen to map impacts, while acknowledging no modelling work has been done for ornamental growers on what in or out of Europe would mean for prices, self-sufficiency, staffing and other areas. NFU research shows that ending EU subsidies for farmers would increase prices and decrease self-sufficiency. Impacts could include higher tariffs to pay for trading with the EU but also "stimulation of domestic production caused by higher farm gate prices".

Hayloft Plants owner and NFU member Derek Jarman said: "With horticulture, seasonal labour has not really been covered. It depends on negotiations once a decision is made. There's a level of uncertainty. The NFU has not taken a position and the HTA has no position. Short term it will probably cost but long term leaving is maybe the best thing since sliced bread for growers, though I don't believe it's right for the economy or country."

Jarman said the big questions on Brexit are currency-buying young plants from Europe - as the euro strengthens it costs more but competition from imports lessens - and migrant labour. An unknown loss of migrant labour could bankrupt edible-crop growers, he suggested.

Meanwhile, the HTA has been discussing growing secure supplies of species such as oak and plane in the UK to protect the trees from incoming pests and diseases such as Xylella fastidiosa.

Curtis-Machin said any notifiable plant is under consideration and talks on the issue are ongoing with Defra. "We asked Defra would you support secure supply on certain species?" he said. "It would save Defra money because they would have to make fewer inspections and we would be more biosecure, but it would take time."

A business case needs to be made taking in exchange rates and the size of the British market, he added. "As the tree and shrub growers have found (with uncertainty of grants), unless you have a secure market it is very difficult to grow plants speculatively. If we could design the perfect system what help would we need?"

He said HTA ornamental, amenity and retail supplier and seed committees have discussed the issue, adding that all growers and not just HTA members would need to be involved.

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