The hopes and concerns of the garden industry post-Brexit were made clear to Westminster representatives at a Select Committee Inquiry on 15 November, and to 19 parliamentarians at a very successful joint dinner, held by the APPGHG and EFRA Select Committee on 23 October at the House of Lords.
HTA Director of Horticulture, Raoul Curtis-Machin gave evidence at the Inquiry into Brexit-Trade in Food, after the Select Committee requested that the ornamentals sector should be represented. Curtis-Machin described the opportunity for ornamental horticulture to play an important role in a future UK Agriculture and Environment policy which valued public environment benefits first and foremost. He also described the import substitution opportunity: incentivise UK plant producers to grow more UK plants to boost the economy and also mitigate against biosecurity threats such as Xylella.
The hour-long evidence session also covered pesticides, herbicides and regulatory frameworks like water abstraction, new customs arrangements, and a replacement Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme. The HTA were there alongside agriculture, fresh produce and fruit, and followed up with written evidence.
At the APPGHG dinner at the House of Lords, Curtis-Machin spoke about a sector deal for ornamental horticulture. This could be developed through the industrial strategy or through Defra as a new environmental and agricultural framework emerges post Brexit.
Stan Green, former HTA President and Managing Director of Growforth, highlighted the need for more ornamental and landscape horticulture expertise and knowledge in Defra. He explained that many of our problems and issues would be far more easily dealt with if there was a decent basic understanding of horticultural principles in Defra. This was met with resounding support from the policymakers who offered to help us build our case.
Brian Fraser, Oakover Nurseries General Manager, spoke about import substitution and biosecurity, stating that the UK had a great opportunity to boost UK production and at the same time enhance its biosecurity. He said that simple fiscal incentives, including tax breaks and grants would incentivise nursery expansion, and he drew a comparison with the British film industry which had grown under similar conditions.
John Adlam, HTA Nursery Adviser and Founder of Dove Associates, introduced the topics of labour and water availability – two essential needs for the industry. He urged the Select Committee to make sure their recent report recommendations were followed by Defra. He also talked about a report which is about to be launched by the Water for Food Group (coalition of HTA, NFU, CLA and other stakeholders), which asks Government to classify water used for food and container plant production as an essential need. He explained that as we currently stand, water supplies could be switched off to food and ornamentals producers in the event of a drought order, because their water use was not classed as essential. This was also received warmly by the policymakers, who again offered their support to us in stating our case and trying to influence Government.
Other industry issues and opportunities were also discussed, including UK participation at the Beijing Expo 2019 and the need for strategic Research and Development support for delivering the industry aims in the HIP strategy.