‘The sector is also struggling to attract new talent and is perceived as unattractive and inaccessible.’
The horticulture sector is under-prioritised and unappreciated by policy makers, leaving holes in the UK’s food security and ability to meet net zero goals. This is among the conclusions from a report by the UK cross-party House of Lords Horticulture Sector Committee.
The 185-page report Sowing the seeds: A blooming English Horticulture sector calls on the UK government to take steps to safeguard the future of the sector and harness its potential to deliver on ‘critical food security and environmental goals’.
Describing the the £5 billion horticulture industry focusing on; fruit, vegetables and ornamental plants, as being ‘at a crossroads’, the report says that ‘UK growers have been hit hard by rising fertiliser and energy costs due to the ongoing impact of Brexit, the covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.’
In addition, the report asserts: ‘The sector is also struggling to attract new talent and is perceived as unattractive and inaccessible. This has led to a reliance on seasonal migrant labour.’
The Committee was also critical of supermarkets, ‘where loss-leader strategies squeeze grower returns in favour of low prices for consumers, and which prioritise cheaper imports over UK-grown produce.’
Calling for support on innovation in the horticulture sector, Committee Chair Lord Redesdale said: ‘Amateur and professional horticulturists alike must be supported to transition towards more environmentally friendly practices, and the R&D landscape must be reviewed to ensure it backs British growers to innovate.’
Lord Redesdale added: ‘Our report calls on the government to publish the “world-leading” Horticulture Strategy it promised over a year ago and get on with its review of fairness in the horticulture supply chain.
‘[The government] must secure the skills pipeline by boosting the place of horticulture on the curriculum, draw up a clear workforce strategy, and urgently address reports of exploitation linked to the seasonal worker visa.’
Earlier this year, the House of Lords Horticultural Sector Committee held an inquiry taking evidence on R&D in the sector as well as the availability of water both now and in the future. The inquiry looked at areas to be prioritised for R&D, and current R&D funding models for the horticulture sector.
A response from the chair of SCI’s Horticulture Group will follow soon.