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Brexit-Induced Border Controls: A Looming Crisis for British Fruit and Flower Cultivators

The imminent implementation of new post-Brexit border checks, slated for April, is casting a long shadow over the industry, with fears of catastrophic delays and damage to vital young plant imports.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has warned that these border controls could spell disaster for horticultural businesses across the country. Martin Emmett, Chair of the NFU’s Horticulture and Potatoes Board, starkly outlined the gravity of the situation: "We are facing an existential threat. The prospect of unusable deliveries and stock destruction is a terrifying reality that could hit our businesses profoundly."


This sentiment is echoed across the sector. From the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) to British Berry Growers (BBG), industry leaders are united in their concern. Nick Marston, Chair of BBG, highlighted the specific risks to the UK strawberry industry, heavily reliant on EU young plant imports. "The potential financial losses due to government processing delays could be staggering," Marston said, underlining the urgency of the situation.


Amidst these voices, Nigel Jenney, Chief Executive of the Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC), has been known for his candid warnings about the perils of ill-conceived border checks. His previous statements have consistently highlighted the detrimental effects such policies could have on the supply chain, resonating strongly with the current concerns.


The heart of the issue lies in the new Border Target Operating Model (BTOM), a post-Brexit border regime that has already seen multiple delays. Under this model, almost all young plants, deemed high risk, will undergo rigorous checks at new border posts. This shift from the current system, where plants are held at nurseries and farms for selective government inspection, is causing widespread unease among growers.


"We are operating in a sector which grows and distributes highly perishable, highly sensitive products as quickly and efficiently as possible ," explained Jenney. "So frankly, from my industry's point of view, we believe the current proposed strategy will fundamentally compromise our industry's least cost, highly efficient supply chain from Europe, without a doubt.


"We don't manufacture widgets, we don't keep them in a UK warehouse for six months, hoping someone's going to buy them. Our produce is literally harvested, packed, and delivered within hours, not days.


"As such, the BTOM provides some huge challenges for our sector in terms of compromising that just -in -time least cost to maintain both the quality of the products, but also the cost of the products," said Jenney.


As the April deadline looms, the UK's horticultural sector finds itself at a critical juncture. The outcome of these border checks could not only determine the future of many businesses but also reshape the country's agricultural landscape.


With so much at stake, the industry's call for a reconsideration of the BTOM's implementation is not just a plea for survival but a stark reminder of the delicate balance between biosecurity and business viability in post-Brexit Britain.


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