In a call to arms at last week's green skills initiative forum, Lantra's Madge Moore said the latest Government thinking would see skills funding redistributed to sectors regarded as key to emerging from recession - and that did not include horticulture.
"They are in the areas of digital, low-carbon industries, life sciences and pharmaceuticals, advanced engineering, professional and financial services, engineering construction and belatedly health services," Moore told the gathering of horticulture representatives and education specialists.
"While there are links that we can make to these new industries, there is no recognition of the importance of industries such as ours that keep the whole place going, neither is there the recognition of the key role horticulture plays in health, environmental improvement, land management, flood prevention or food production."
In addition, the drive for the UK Commission for Employment & Skills to develop an annual national strategic skills audit could mean land-based industries become lost in the noise of new growth industries, while the role of regional development agencies in determining regional strategies based on the audit raised further challenges for the sector, said Moore.
"As we do not feature as a key priority industry at present we are unlikely to do so in the future unless we all work together to raise the profile and importance of horticulture and other land-based industries in the low-carbon debate, particularly in both adaptation to climate change and living with the consequences of climate change."
She added: "If we are not seen as a priority we stand less chance of accessing the £3.5bn adult skills funding programmes and are in danger of losing funding for provision that is not seen as contributing to a priority sector."
Echoing Moore's comments, Capel Manor College chief executive Steve Dowbiggin said: "In every area we have got to get horticulture identified as a priority industry. There will be a rationalisation of funding in the next two years and if we don't have that badge of 'priority industry', we will be in trouble."
National strategy Skills for Growth was launched by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills in November.
- See leader, p16.