HortWeek editor Matthew Appleby said the horticulture industry grows plants which sequester CO2 emissions so is fundamentally a carbon-reducing sector. But the industry needs a better method of collecting data on the carbon footprint of horticultural businesses.
He added that solar panels, wind turbines and other energy-production often occurs at sites, which can add green energy to the system. But more Government support would be welcome to develop this. He said the Government has been "poor" on supporting R&D for peat replacement and has "let the industry sort it out for themselves, then banned it".
Lord Deben called for better labelling by bold politicians "helping people to do what's right". Deben criticised plastic plant pots but Appleby said they are the best method of growing and selling plants at retail and there should be greater recycling by councils, where almost 90% do not accept them in kerbside box recycling schemes.
Deben, who famously enlisted his infant daughter to eat a beefburger when tackling the BSE crisis in 1990 as environment secretary, was also critical of meat replacements and avocadoes. Appleby said the UK needs to grow more fruit and vegetables and have less concentration of efforts on meat, dairy and eggs, for environmental, ethical and health reasons. He said it was naive to expect people to eat turnips all year when they want to eat oranges, which can't be grown in the UK.
Appleby spoke of the garden retail and growing industries' efforts to reduce peat and plastic use. In garden centres these include Evergreen's compost bag recycling, Southern Trident's net zero composts, Edibleculture's fill-a-bag compost schemes and efforts to recycle rainwater and collect water in reservoirs. He said the Government needs to help the industry with R&D into peat replacements and with planning permissions for reservoirs. As an unconsolidated sector made up of SMEs, the businesses need help and expertise to draw up net zero plans.
He said we should not dismiss offsetting and vertical farming as ways to tackle the issue.
He said the one recommendation the committee could make to Government was to have a standardised system of net zero reporting, preferably free and easy to use, for horticulture businesses to set a common baseline which they can work from. This would end the current "wild west" mix of standards that businesses pay for and should potentially include social and ethical considerations, such as worker and animals rights, as well as Lifecycle Carbon Analysis and plant/food miles travelled.
Meanwhile, on the day of the Lords hearing, the Government made a "commitment to develop a new harmonised approach for measuring on farm emissions. The announcement, from the government’s Net Zero Growth Plan and Nature Markets Framework follows on from a call for evidence on the role of robust monitoring, reporting and verification of greenhouse gas emissions on farms: "Whilst there are already numerous tools on the market for farmers to assess their emissions, inconsistency in the results has led to low confidence from industry and low uptake. By developing a harmonised methodology and setting out by 2024 how farmers will be supported to measure their emissions, the Government can help the agricultural sector reduce emissions across the supply chain – including from livestock, nutrient management, and farm equipment."
Appleby wrote RASE's net zero in horticulture report in 2021.
Witnesses - part 1: Professor Tim Benton, research director, Chatham House; The Rt Hon. the Lord Deben, chair, Climate Change Committee; Dr Chris Thorogood, deputy director of Oxford Botanic Garden, Oxford University
Witnesses - part 2: Matthew Appleby, editor, Horticulture Week; Clare Mike, director of business development, LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming)
Peers included: Lord Redesdale, Baron Watson, Baroness Fookes, Baroness Willis, Lord Sahota, Lord Colgrain, Lord Curry, Lord Carter, Baroness Buscombe. Baroness Walmsley and Baroness Jones.
Meanwhile, the Soil Association was disappointed to see inaction on decarbonising the UK's farming sector on what was dubbed 'Green Day' as the Government revealed plans to reach net zero.