Presented by Fargro Fargro

Three Brexit opportunities: what growers should ask for

Brexit means change – change means opportunity. Whatever your politics and opinions, Brexit became a reality on January 1, which means it’s time to make the most of it. Industry leaders Fargro have pinpointed three ways the horticulture industry can benefit.

1) Specific regulations for specific needs
Biopesticides get caught in the wrong net. It’s time for the CRD to create a distinct regulatory framework. As we all know, regulation for the authorisation of plant protection products falls under the Chemicals Regulation Division (CRD) of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK. But there’s no distinct regulatory process for biopesticides – so they’re subject to scrutiny under a framework designed for conventional chemistry. 

This is the moment for CRD to allow for more seamless authorisation of low-risk substances.

Regulating under the current framework is not always appropriate, especially considering the generally better safety profiles of biopesticides. It is a long, expensive and onerous process and a barrier to entry for highly useful but more niche products. And because many biopesticides manufacturers are smaller with limited resources, there are fewer available in the UK and EU compared with the US, China, India and South America.

Creating a distinct regulatory framework for biopesticides means CRD can reform a number of criteria to meet approval. 

The UK’s newfound regulatory independence should lead to a radical re-evaluation of CRD’s culture and a reimagining of the processes that make the UK horticultural and agricultural industries more competitive globally. For example, efficacy. It’s currently a pillar of approval for all plant protection products. But can the market not determine this? Let the growers decide if the product works – if it doesn’t, growers won’t buy.

Fargro technical director, Dr Joshua Burnstone, says: “We’d like to see a pragmatic approach to the approval of biopesticides that will not only maintain the UK’s exceptional standards for environmental and human safety but also allow growers access to the tools they need to grow the best crops in a highly competitive international environment.” 

2) Driving the fourth agricultural revolution
Fargro technical development specialist, Ant Surrage, says: “An agricultural revolution is underway. Increased demand, reducing carbon footprints and soil degradation are just a few of many issues driving this.” 

He says that from disruptive tech solutions such as artificial intelligence, regenerative agriculture and automation to consumer-driven demands such as food miles and provenance, all are blowing the winds of change.

Organisations such as Bardsley England and the newly founded Bardsley X, Dyson Farming and several vertical farming organisations are already revolutionising the landscape.   

Being free of EU regulations and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) allows the UK to look at novel technologies to drive the optimisations for UK growth. 

Surrage adds that technologies such as CRISPR-Cas9 are an example. It helps scientists make highly specific cuts in a plant’s genome to “give mother nature a helping hand”. The ECJ classifies crops using CRISPR as GMOs and so fall under the GMO directive. Hydroponic and vertical farming may also benefit from a divergence from EU laws: under current EU law, organic farming is ‘based on the soil’ so excluding soil-free systems.  

Food security and provenance have become key consumers concerns, and the pandemic has brought this into sharper focus. UK growers can scale up operations post-Brexit. New logistical and regulatory barriers will make imports more expensive and can give UK-grown produce a competitive advantage. 

And this advantage makes the business case more compelling for investment in state-of-the-art controlled environment agriculture (CEA).

We are on the cusp of a boom not only in UK horticulture but also in the AgTech sector. Increased demand and competition within CEA will lead to innovation and a further competitive edge, benefitting the UK globally as AgTech becomes a key export.

3) Global sales – but we need the workers
Workers from outside the UK are vital to the success of our sector as we have ambitions to grow more fruit and veg at home.

The government’s seasonal agricultural workers’ scheme (SAWS) has long been an area of concern for growers. Initially, the government proposed a limit of 10,000 workers. In December, after industry-wide lobbying, this increased to 30,000. The problem is, the UK soft fruit, top fruit, field vegetable and ornamentals sectors need up to 70,000 seasonal workers each year.

Fargro’s managing director, Richard Hopkins, says: “The government needs to recognise urgently that these valued, tax-paying workers are not seeking settled status, any more than overseas undergraduates studying at our universities are. They want to do a job, make some money and head home.”

Could UK workers make up the shortfall? Last year, ’Pick for Britain’ attracted 8,000 local workers. The retention rate of these local workers varied, with some growers reporting lower productivity while others said they formed valuable parts of the team. 

The NFU’s Horticulture Seasonal Worker Survey 2020 of 244 horticultural growers found that the average UK worker stayed for 9.5 weeks, 4.5 weeks fewer than their non-UK colleagues. 

Hopkins adds: “As the UK relaunches itself on the world stage, we have an opportunity to showcase our quality produce, provided we can get it out of the fields.”

Fargro is one of the UK's leading suppliers of horticultural products for the professional grower, landscaper and garden centre. Find out more here.

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