Horticulture in crisis, Minette Batters tells Lords

Government policy is too heavily weighted in delivering for the environment almost at the cost of food production, NFU president Minette Batters has told a House of Lords horticultural sector committee.

Giving evidence on Thursday 16 March, Mrs Batters said the UK was at a pivotal moment for the future of horticulture. There was huge untapped potential, so it was extremely sad to see the sector contracting at the rate it is.

Access to labour, greater policy certainty, and managing very high input costs were outlined by Mrs Batters as the three key areas of focus.

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The House of Lords committee is looking into the challenges facing the horticultural sector, as well as ways to support it, with chairman Lord Redesdale due to publish a report on it later this year.

Ms Batters said: “Cost inflation for inputs is at a record high, energy is up 165%, fertiliser up 40%, and workforce costs are up over 13%. Much of this is not being reflected in contractual relationships, so growers are carrying a huge proportion of the risk.”

This is a sector that is worth 25% of total farmgate value, she added.

The Royal Horticultural Society director general Clare Matterson also warned of businesses struggling to fill vacancies and issues with succession planning.

Ms Matterson said there were lots of old family-run businesses in the sector across the UK, which were not seeing that next level of succession.

She stressed the importance of supporting those smaller businesses with very specific technical growing skills around particular species.

James Barnes, Horticultural Trades Association chairman, also pointed to longer term issues around water resources.

“It doesn’t feel like the discussion is going towards any long-term, cross-regional infrastructural solutions here,” he added.

The committee published a call for evidence in February for written submissions, with a deadline of 10 April.