Back in 1908, a small gathering of growers and farmers met to decide whether there was a need for a national industry group. There was, and there still is.
Amy Gray is helping to meet that need at the NFU, which has grown in its 110 years to become the UK’s biggest professional association and one of the largest in Europe. As a horticultural adviser for ornamentals, fruit and glasshouse crops, she advises on policy and supply-chain relations — massive issues for the NFU’s 55,000 members in England and Wales.
Advice is badly needed right now and that is what Gray and her team are delivering. "Modern farming has huge challenges in terms of food security, skills, employment and Brexit," she says. "The latter has created uncertainty for our industry and one of the NFU’s biggest challenges is to make sure our members can handle the transition to get the best deal in a very competitive market."
If advice is badly needed, so is a new generation of talent to harness that advice to good effect, which is why events such as the Horticulture Week Business Awards are important, she says. As well as sponsoring, the NFU helped judge this year’s awards, which Gray insists are vital to raising the profile of the sector and attracting that fresh new talent to meet these challenges.
"We must raise the sector profile, share experiences and reward the work people put in to their businesses and careers. Being part of the awards enables you to speak to others you may not usually have a chance to meet. You learn from other sectors because many skills are transferable. The Horticulture Week Business Awards are therefore a hotbed of new ideas and perspectives."
But excellence, she adds, is not merely about winning awards. It is also about proving that your horticultural business is "forward-thinking, productive, sustainable and profitable". As a representative group, the NFU needs to ensure members are in a position to succeed "whatever challenges life throws at you", adds Gray, insisting the sector has what it takes because it continually delivers.
"Horticulture is fantastic because it is diverse, innovative and progressive. The NFU encourages excellence and best practice among our members. It is our job to make sure they have at their fingertips the knowledge needed to make steps in the right direction.
"So when our members and other people across this very broad sector get thrown challenges, in my experience they have always had the capacity to rise to them and come up with new ways to tackle problems. The future of the horticulture industry is exciting because with challenges always come opportunities."