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Calls for Government Regulation of Horticulture Contracts to Ensure Fair Treatment for Growers

The National Farmers Union (NFU) has underscored the necessity for governmental oversight of contracts within the horticulture sector, advocating for a framework akin to the recent regulations introduced for dairy contracts.

Martin Emmett, Chairman of NFU Horticulture

This call for regulation, detailed in the NFU's submission to a Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) consultation, aims to ensure equitable treatment for growers.

Launched in December 2023 by Defra Secretary Steve Barclay, the consultation seeks to bolster stability and resilience in the fresh produce sector through the assurance of fair pricing for producers.

A critical aspect of the consultation involves understanding the current dynamics within the horticulture supply chain to foster improved business practices and equitable conditions for all parties involved.

Through feedback from over 250 members, the NFU has highlighted six detrimental purchasing practices impacting growers, including the use of annual or seasonal supply agreements that undermine businesses with longer production cycles, buyers' reluctance to share the risks and costs of horticulture production, and the absence of mechanisms for mid-season price renegotiations or to address unreasonable demands and product rejection ambiguities.

Martin Emmett, Chairman of the NFU Horticulture Board, expressed concern over the strained relationships between growers and buyers, citing instances of negotiation delays and unexpected mid-contract demands that complicate planning and operations for the upcoming season.

Emmett emphasised the importance of Defra utilising its legislative authority under the Agriculture Act 2020 to rectify these unfair purchasing behaviours.

In addition to advocating for contract regulation, which could encompass price assessments and the establishment of a new arbitration entity as seen in the dairy sector, the NFU proposes the creation of a Horticulture Buyers’ Code of Practice.

This would extend the existing Groceries Supply Code of Practice to include food manufacturers and processors, not just retailers, thereby broadening the scope of fair trade practices within the industry.


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