Tree and hedging growers seek automatic entry to assurance scheme

The HTA tree and hedging group's AGM last week discussed how plant passport-using UK growers should be given automatic places on the government's proposed assurance scheme.

The idea of an assured nursery scheme, introduced in Defra's recent tree and plant health business plan, must not cost growers money or time in terms of red tape, the group agreed.

HTA horticulture head Raoul Curtis-Machin said: "Any scheme has to be practical for the industry as a whole. But there's the internet import route Majestic Trees' Steve McCurdy has raised where people can circumvent the plant passport system. We support the idea of an assurance scheme but want to make sure it does not introduce bureaucracy.

"We want it to be as simple as possible and you could argue our system is doing a cracking job as it is. Nurseries are complying with plant passporting and you could hold them up as the existing scheme. You have to be careful with competition laws but if they hold a plant passport you could introduce an assurance scheme saying 'please just buy from these assured nurseries. They already get plant passport inspections and there would be nothing else to pay for.

"People who aren't following the procedure are introducing a risk. For the nurseries complying they're setting an incentive for everyone else. The next thing will be the whole lot is banned and we're down to 150 plants available to sell."

Curtis-Machin said he met chief plant health officer Nicola Spence last week and plugging loopholes in plant importing is "top of her list of things to nail".

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