West Midlands MEP in bid to win support for production horticulture

A West Midlands MEP has pledged to improve policy support for horticulture through a resolution she hopes the European Parliament will approve then pass to the European Commission for action early next year.

Seeking advice on the draft resolution from UK horticulture representatives last week, Conservative MEP Anthea McIntyre said: "The needs of horticulture should be better recognised," On the issue of what form funding for producer organisations should take in future, she said these were "hugely popular in Mediterranean countries".

But British Growers Association chief executive James Hallett said: "The application and reporting are complex and costly. They also focus on collaboration to get better prices rather than to improve efficiency and innovation."

McIntyre agreed, suggesting that such funding is simply increasing production rather than competitiveness.

Vegetable grower Stephen Watkins of Sheepcote Farm in Worcestershire added: "The requirement to buy new equipment is costly and unnecessary." Haygrove Plants managing director Angus Davison said the producer organisation scheme ought to have achieved its aims by now and "there should be an end to it".

NFU West Midlands horticulture board vice chairman Anthony Snell agreed. "The funding could then go on boosting consumption instead," he said.

On crop protection, Horticultural Development Company (HDC) director Dr Bill Parker called for the "stalled" pan-European system of "minor use" approvals to be restarted, while Warwick Crop Centre director Dr Rosemary Collier urged support for integrated crop management at European level.

On research funding, she added: "There is a mismatch between Government schemes and what the industry is trying to achieve."

Some EU regulations were identified as onerous to horticulture. HDC chairman Neil Bragg said: "Anything other than the product itself is defined as 'waste', which limits what you can do with it. The Environment Agency defers to the EU on this."

Watkins added: "If I spread manure on my fields I can't grow a crop for two years. How are you supposed to grow organically?"

Draft resolution - Action points put forward

- The system of support for producer organisations to be adapted to fit individual member states' markets.

- A risk-based approach to be applied to the regulation of plant-protection products.

- A reassessment of current restrictions on neonicotinoids.

- The prioritising of funding for "innovative plant-breeding techniques" including cis-genic breeding;

- "Effective schemes" to help growers access labour during key periods.

- Retailers to reinvest a share of profits from fresh-produce sales back into research for the sector.

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