UK farming groups slam government U-turn on developing horticulture strategy
Farming groups in the UK have heavily criticised the government’s decision to scrap plans to co-produce a comprehensive horticulture strategy to support and grow the sector. On May 2nd, farming minister Mark Spencer announced that the government will not be developing a published strategy for the horticulture sector as originally envisaged in the Government Food Strategy, reasoning that the sector “operates in a complex, ever-evolving commercial and political landscape”.
Instead, he said Defra is prioritising policy work that ”maximises impact through multiple avenues, this includes establishing the seasonal worker visa route, the labour review, automation, the Farming Innovation Programme and the Farming Investment Fund and working across government on energy support and planning”.
The hope within the UK horticulture sector, which is battling sky-high input costs, labour issues and low margins, was that the promised government strategy would provide a blueprint for supporting the production and consumption of British grown fruit and vegetables.
NFU horticulture board chair Martin Emmett said: “The UK horticulture sector has enormous potential to deliver increased food security, more skilled jobs, and a positive environmental impact for the country. But with costs rising and the sector seeing worrying falls in production, it is beyond comprehension why the government would choose to backtrack from its commitment to develop a horticulture growth strategy.”
Vicki Hird, head of farming at campaign group Sustain, described the move as ”an appalling, backwards step”, while Ali Capper, executive chairwoman of British Apples and Pears, told Farmers Weekly that Defra’s decision “beggars belief”. “It is an extraordinary decision,” she said. “It is even more extraordinary that the minister appears to be making that decision at a time when the industry is in crisis and on a knife edge.”