NFU Launches Ambitious Strategy to Propel UK Horticulture and Potatoes Beyond Elections

NFU Launches Ambitious Strategy to Propel UK Horticulture and Potatoes Beyond Elections
NFU Launches Ambitious Strategy to Propel UK Horticulture and Potatoes Beyond Elections

NFU’s Visionary Strategy: Propelling UK Horticulture and Potatoes Beyond Elections

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has embarked on a transformative journey with the launch of its revised growth strategy, urging political parties to amplify the progress achieved and rally behind the UK horticulture and potatoes sector well beyond the next election. Initially unveiled in the spring of 2023, the strategy garnered considerable attention across the industry. Several of its key proposals found immediate reflection at the No. 10 Farm to Fork summit held several weeks later, showcasing the strategy’s influence and relevance.

The strategy, an ambitious roadmap for the future of horticulture and potato farming, reflects the industry’s dynamism and the NFU’s commitment to shaping a resilient and thriving sector. Martin Emmett, Chair of the NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board, emphasized the enormous growth potential within the sector, provided there is robust political and supply chain backing. However, he issued a stark warning that, without swift political action, the recent decline in production within the industry would persist, potentially undermining its long-term viability.

The NFU has identified ten critical building blocks essential for growers to foster development and growth within the industry. These pillars encompass a spectrum of challenges and opportunities that, when addressed comprehensively, can position UK horticulture and potato farming on a sustainable and prosperous trajectory.

1. Access to Labor: The strategy advocates for the establishment of a minimum five-year rolling seasonal worker scheme, coupled with suitable-length visas. Notably, the NFU calls for no wage differentials from the National Living Wage and the removal of unrealistic caps on worker numbers. Recognizing the seasonal nature of the industry, this pillar aims to ensure a stable and skilled workforce for horticulture and potato farmers.

2. Access to Affordable and Sustainable Energy Supplies: Addressing the energy needs of the sector, the strategy calls for greater recognition of energy-intensive horticulture within existing and future energy support schemes. Simultaneously, it urges an expansion of grid infrastructure to support investment in renewable energy sources. This approach aligns with broader sustainability goals and positions the sector as a responsible contributor to the UK’s green energy transition.

3. Access to Crop Protection: Highlighting the need for a competitive stance on the global stage, the NFU advocates for an enabling crop protection policy. The objective is to ensure that the UK is not disadvantaged in comparison to its global competitors. This pillar emphasizes the importance of aligning regulatory frameworks to balance environmental concerns with the need for effective crop protection.

4. Access to Water: Recognizing the sector’s vulnerability to drought and challenges arising from reductions or revocations of abstraction licenses, the strategy underscores the necessity for increased investment in water infrastructure. This includes improvements in water collection, storage, and distribution on farms and within and between regions. It reflects a forward-looking approach to addressing water scarcity concerns and ensuring sustainable water management practices.

5. Access to Sustainable Growing Media: The strategy takes a nuanced stance on the use of peat in commercial production. Rejecting an outright ban, it calls for industry-government collaboration to transition towards peat-free alternatives in an environmentally and commercially sustainable manner. This approach emphasizes the need for gradual change and collaborative efforts to find viable alternatives.

6. Productivity Investment: This pillar underscores the critical need for a timely replacement for the EU Fruit and Veg Aid Scheme. It calls for a scheme that surpasses the inclusivity of its predecessor, ensuring that delays in its development are minimized. This commitment to productivity investment aligns with the industry’s aspiration for growth and innovation, providing essential support to horticulture and potato farmers.

7. Enabling Import Controls for Plants and Plant Products: Recognizing the foundational role of importing plants and plant materials for horticultural production, the strategy advocates for minimizing barriers and costs while maintaining biosecurity. This pillar seeks to streamline import processes, support the foundations of horticulture, and promote global collaboration in plant material exchange.

8. Fairness in the Supply Chain: Emphasizing equitable relationships, the NFU calls for growers to have open discussions and fair negotiations on cost-price inflation with their customers. This pillar aims to address concerns related to pricing dynamics within the supply chain, ensuring that growers receive fair compensation for their produce.

9. Access to Environmental Funding Schemes: Highlighting the environmental contributions of horticulture, the strategy calls for better recognition within environmental land management schemes. This recognition should reflect the diversity of growing systems across the sector and the environmental benefits horticulture delivers. This pillar positions horticulture as a contributor to broader environmental goals, aligning with the UK’s commitment to sustainable practices.

10. Enabling Planning Policy: Recognizing the role of planning decisions in supporting or restricting horticultural businesses, the strategy emphasizes the need for greater consistency in planning decisions. This includes the provision of high-quality, short-term accommodation for seasonal workers. By ensuring a conducive planning environment, this pillar aims to facilitate the growth of horticultural businesses.

In launching the renewed strategy, Martin Emmett acknowledged the recent elevation of the sector on the political agenda, with some important commitments made regarding its future. However, he also acknowledged the challenges faced by growers in recent years, ranging from labor shortages to inflation and increased regulation, which have collectively impacted growers’ confidence to invest.

“This is a sector that the industry, supply chain, and government all agree should see growth in the UK,” he remarked. The revised strategy sets out key government and supply chain policies that need attention to deliver that growth. As the UK heads towards a general election, the NFU emphasizes the imperative for all political parties to rally behind this strategy and propel the sector forward.

The NFU’s visionary strategy provides a comprehensive roadmap for the future of UK horticulture and potato farming. By addressing key challenges and opportunities, the strategy positions the sector for sustainable growth, ensuring its resilience in the face of evolving economic, environmental, and regulatory landscapes.

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