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Analysis: Lords Committee Calls for Sweeping Horticulture Reforms

In an era where the significance of sustainable agriculture and local food production has never been more pronounced, a comprehensive report by the House of Lords Horticultural Sector Committee, titled "Sowing the Seeds: A Blooming English Horticultural Sector," casts a spotlight on the pivotal role of the horticultural sector within the UK.

First published on 6 November 2023, the report unveils the sector's substantial contributions to the economy, food supply, wellbeing, and the nation's net zero ambitions, while also addressing the myriad challenges it faces.

The Sector's Economic Bloom

The inquiry, initiated in February 2023, delved into the horticultural sector's opportunities and hurdles, including climate change, rising costs, and labour and skills shortages. It also examined the potential of new technologies and policies in the wake of Brexit and the levelling up agenda.

The sector, encompassing the cultivation of fruits, vegetables, and ornamental plants, is a significant employment source, with over 50,000 individuals in fruit and vegetable production and an estimated 674,200 in the ornamental and landscaping sector.

The report highlights the sector's £28.8 billion GDP footprint in 2019, with projections suggesting this could escalate to nearly £42 billion by 2030, underscoring the sector's economic vitality.

Challenges and Recommendations

Despite its economic contributions, the committee's findings reveal a sector at a crossroads, grappling with Brexit-induced trading difficulties, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ramifications of the conflict in Ukraine.

These challenges have precipitated a complex trading environment, squeezing exports and complicating imports essential for the UK's food security and ornamental plant needs.

The report criticises the government's "patchy" oversight and calls for urgent action to safeguard the sector's future, proposing 93 recommendations aimed at addressing issues ranging from supermarket competition, skills and education gaps, to the need for increased research and development funding.

Government's Lukewarm Response

The government's response, published on 12 February 2024, to the committee's ambitious recommendations has been met with a degree of reservation. While acknowledging the importance of supporting the horticultural sector, the government's stance on not publishing an official horticulture strategy suggests a preference for a more fluid approach to addressing sector needs.

This has raised concerns about the commitment to fully realise the sector's potential and address the pressing challenges outlined in the report.

A Call to Action

The Lords Committee's report is a clear call for a reinvigorated approach to horticulture in England.

It envisions a sector that not only contributes significantly to the economy but also plays a crucial role in achieving net zero targets and enhancing food security.

The report's recommendations offer a roadmap for transforming the sector into a global leader in sustainable practices. However, the government's tepid response underscores the need for continued advocacy and dialogue to ensure these recommendations do not remain unseeded.

As the House of Lords prepares to debate this critical report on 19 April 2024, the future of English horticulture hangs in the balance. The sector's potential to bloom into a world-leading example of sustainable agriculture and contribute even more significantly to the national economy and environmental goals is clear.

The question now is whether the seeds of change sown by the Lords Committee will be nurtured into fruition or if they will wither in the face of governmental inaction.


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