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Urgent steps are needed to safeguard the future of the UK’s horticulture sector, says a hard-hitting House of Lords report. The £5 billion industry... UK horticulture is at crossroads, say peers

Urgent steps are needed to safeguard the future of the UK’s horticulture sector, says a hard-hitting House of Lords report.

The £5 billion industry – focusing on fruit, vegetables and ornamental plants – is at a crossroads, says the study. It is under-prioritised and unappreciated by policymakers – threatening to leave holes in UK food security and net zero targets.

Rising costs

The stark warning follows an inquiry by the cross-party House of Lords horticultural sector committee. It examines the policies and investment needed for the horticulture sector to thrive.

Growers have been hit hard by rising fertiliser and energy costs due to the impact of Brexit, the Covid pandemic and war in Ukraine, says the document. The sector is  struggling to attract talent and is perceived as unattractive and inaccessible, it adds.

Committee chairman Lord Redesdale said: “Horticulture is a multi-billion-pound industry employing over 50,000 people, but it is too frequently overlooked by policymakers.

“In the face of a cost-of-living crisis, supermarkets are battling to keep prices down, but this squeezes UK growers out of the market in favour of cheaper imports. This fundamentally threatens food security and the domestic market for ornamentals.”

Published last month, he report calls on the government to publish the “world leading” horticulture strategy it promised over a year ago. And it calls on ministers to press ahead with their review of fairness in the horticulture supply chain.

When it comes to seasonal labour, the committee heard evidence of discrimination and exploitation of migrant workers, including the non-payment of wages and over-crowded, substandard accommodation.

While the sector must do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the report says horticulture can help to mitigate the impacts of climate change through improving biodiversity, carbon capture and urban greening.

But it warns that the adoption of exciting new technologies to support the transition to more environmentally-friendly, less labour-intensive growing methods will depend on effective research and development – and a secure, skilled, labour supply.

Supermarkets

The committee was particularly damning on the role of supermarkets, whose loss-leader strategies it says squeeze growers in favour of low prices for consumers, and which prioritise cheaper imports over UK-grown produce.

Lord Redesdale said the government should secure the skills pipeline by boosting the place of horticulture on the curriculum, draw up a clear workforce strategy – and urgently address reports of exploitation linked to the seasonal worker visa.

“Amateur and professional horticulturists alike must be supported to transition towards more environmentally friendly practices, and the research and development landscape must be reviewed to ensure it backs British growers to innovate.

“With the confidence and support of government, the horticulture sector can realise its limitless potential.”