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British Growers and Lords Unite in Disappointment Over Government's Cold Shoulder to Horticulture Reform Calls

Farmers and members of the House of Lords have voiced their frustration with the government's lukewarm reaction to a report issued in November by the House of Lords committee on horticulture, which called for comprehensive reforms within the industry.

The committee's findings highlighted the neglect and undervaluation of the horticultural sector by government officials, which has resulted in gaps in the UK's food security and its efforts to achieve net-zero targets.

Despite the committee's numerous suggestions, the government has overlooked many, causing disappointment across the industry.

A key recommendation was for the government to release its much-anticipated Horticulture Strategy for England to provide direction and boost confidence among growers.

Defra's response to this was, "We already adopt a strategic approach that concentrates our research on addressing the most critical issues for the sector," without committing to the publication of a specific strategy.

Lord Redesdale, chair of the House of Lords committee, expressed his dissatisfaction, stating, "The government's reaction to our report is, at best, underwhelming and, at worst, deeply disappointing. Their failure to issue a Horticulture Strategy, despite previous assurances, leaves the sector lacking in direction and does nothing to bolster grower confidence."

Lee Stiles, the secretary of the Lea Valley Growers Association, labelled the government's response as "another let-down for British growers facing challenges."

The House of Lords committee has urgently called for protective measures for the sector, noting that the consistent effort and evidence provided by industry participants, often highlighting recurring issues, are overlooked.

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) agreed, stating the government's response fails to confront the significant hurdles the sector faces and misses a chance to enhance the UK's fruit, vegetable, plant, and flower industries.

Martin Emmett, chair of the NFU horticulture and potatoes board, pointed out that recent fruit and vegetable shortages have exposed the vulnerability of the supply chain. "We should not depend on imports to feed the country," Emmett remarked. "What we need is for the government to align its ambitions with those of the sector and to support our ornamental plant and flower businesses in achieving their environmental and biosecurity goals."

Another major recommendation, the appointment of a minister for horticulture, was also dismissed by the government, which stated, "Ministers in Defra collaborate closely within and across government departments to ensure the sector's full representation."

However, the government has acted on some recommendations, such as initiating a review for supply chain fairness following the report's publication in December.

The government has pledged to review the Seasonal Worker route but has not set a specific timeline, leading to concerns about delays from Lord Redesdale.

In response to suggestions for processing visas for returning seasonal workers at cost price, the committee was informed that the policy is for those benefiting most from the immigration system to cover its costs. The Home Office and Defra do not profit from application fees exceeding the estimated unit cost, with any excess funds supporting the broader migration and border system.

The official fee for a seasonal worker visa stands at £259, against an estimated unit cost of £129, as per the committee's findings.

Regarding labour recommendations, the government is considering the suggestions from another report, the Independent Review into Labour Shortages in the Food Supply Chain by John Shropshire, expected to be published in early 2024.

Stiles warned of the growing concern among growers that government inaction in the supply chain could lead to more business closures and further jeopardise the UK's food security.

Emmett added, "As a starting point, we need to offer our British growers certainty with a consistent plan for seasonal labour, including a five-year rolling Seasonal Workers Scheme, as well as sustainable returns and long-term contracts with their main customers, the retailers and processors."


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