Richard Hirst reflects on highs and lows of his chairmanship of NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board

Former chairman of the NFU's Horticulture and Potatoes Board, Richard Hirst, has singled out the successful resistance to cover crops proposals among the highlights of his four-year tenure.

"Armed with detailed information from members, NFU lobbying resulted in the dropping of the cover crops proposals, saving the industry around £28 million a year," Hirst said.

Richard Hirst, who is standing down as chairman of the board, also listed the change to the NVZ (nitrate vulnerable zones) and the increase in the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme quota for 2009, the result of "sustained NFU-led lobbying over the past two years", among his highlights.

Hirst said: "We did not have the same level of success with the pesticides Thematic Strategy, but I am certain our combined lobbying effort has left us in much better place than we were under the original proposals.

"There is still much work to be done to help members meet the very significant crop protection challenges that will arise as the Thematic Strategy is implemented."

Hirst added: "One thing I am sure of is that over the past four years the profitability of this sector has fallen and it is galling to see our customers' fortunes continue to rise.

"Even though suppliers to these markets have been forced to agree extra rebates, changes in pricing and alterations to payment terms, there still appears to be a feeling from retailers that all will be OK."

Once growers gave up horticulture and tried other "less risky and capital-intensive cropping", they would not return, he said.

"Unless retail returns are shared more equitably throughout the supply chain, I believe there is a very real threat to the horticultural supply chain."


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