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House of Lords Horticultural Committee calls for government action on neglected horticulture sector

Whilst the sector contributes £5 billion to the economy and plays a vital role in ensuring food security and healthy diets, its current state is bleak. New report calls for Government to take urgent steps to safeguard its future success.

Carrots. Credit: Sarah Hannant | Sustain

Carrots. Credit: Sarah Hannant | Sustain

The House of Lords Horticultural Sector Committee unveiled its long-anticipated report on the UK's horticulture sector which contributes £5 billion to the economy and plays a vital role in ensuring food security and healthy diets. The report paints a bleak picture of the sector's current state, and urges the Government to take urgent steps to safeguard its future success.

The horticultural sector faces significant pressures as global shocks, including the Ukraine conflict and the pandemic, have led to soaring fertiliser and energy costs. The report comprehensively outlines the systemic issues challenging the sector. These range from inadequate interdepartmental collaboration within government to the relentless price wars among supermarket giants, which continue to erode profit margins for growers. A chronic lack of skilled labourers and a lack of investment in research and development further compound the sector's difficulties.

The report lays out the steps needed to get the sector to flourish, with the key recommendations being:

  • Publish a horticulture strategy: The government must recommit to a 'world-leading' horticulture strategy, offering clear, long-term guidance for the sector. 
  • Invest in careers: There is a need for greater focus on developing horticultural careers. Common misconceptions about the sector, coupled with a lack of careers guidance, contribute to the perception of horticulture as an unattractive career choice.  The government is urged to incorporate horticulture into the educational curriculum to ensure a steady supply of skilled workers.
  • Improve the sector's green credentials: With the sector's potential to sequester carbon by transitioning away from peat-based growing substrates, the report calls for government support and guidance in this shift. It also urges the Government to set growers' targets related to reducing the use of environmentally harmful agri-chemicals, with the possibility of mandatory bans if usage is not reduced voluntarily. 
  • Ensure fair dealing: In response to intense retail price competition, the report stresses the need for the government to expedite its fairness review. It also recommends that the  'seven golden rules of fair dealing' are integrated into the Groceries Supply Code of Practices (GSCOP), and to consider expanding the Groceries Code Adjudicator's scope in order to protect relationships between primary producers and processors / packers.
  • Prioritise research & Development (R&D):  Highlighting the decline of horticultural research and development since 2003, the report calls for a government-led comprehensive review to revitalise the sector's research infrastructure, fostering collaboration between academia, industry, and government.

 Will White, Sustainable Farming Coordinator at Sustain said:

"A thriving horticulture sector is vital for agroecology, public health, the economy, and food security. Unfortunately, it has been neglected in both funding and attention. We urge the government to commit to a comprehensive horticulture strategy, expand the Groceries Code Adjudicator's scope, and act on the report's other recommendations."

Hannah Gibbs, Programme Manager for Bridging the Gap said:

"We welcome the committee's findings. If we are to 'bridge the gap' to climate and nature friendly food for all, these recommendations must be embraced with urgency. A fair transition requires shifts across the supply chain, as outlined in Bridging the Gap's six approaches."



Published Monday 6 November 2023

Sustainable Farming Campaign: Sustain encourages integration of sustainable food and farming into local, regional and national government policies.

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