The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has today (Wednesday, March 1) launched a growth strategy for the UK’s horticulture sector which it is calling for the government to support to minimise “future supply chain disruption”.

The strategy sets out ten policies which underpin the success of the sector, enable long-term growth and ensure the fresh supply of produce on supermarket shelves, the union said.

The policies focus on ten “key” building blocks:

  • Access to labour;
  • Access to affordable and sustainable energy supplies;
  • Access to crop protection;
  • Access to water;
  • Productivity investment;
  • Fairness in the supply chain;
  • Access to environmental funding schemes;
  • Access to sustainable growing media;
  • An enabling planning policy;
  • Enabling import controls for plants and plant products.

Speaking on the launch of the growth strategy, NFU president Minette Batters said the horticulture sector is “ambitious” and needs the “full support of the government” to produce more.

“That’s why today we are setting out the key priorities needed to stabilise the challenges facing the sector in the short term and help to deliver long-term growth and a thriving, world-class horticulture sector in the future,” she said.

“The consequences of undervaluing growers can be seen on supermarket shelves right now. Shelves are empty. This is a reality we’ve been warning government about for many months.

“Without urgent action there are real risks that empty shelves may become more commonplace as British horticulture businesses struggle with unprecedented inflationary pressures, most notably on energy and labour costs.”

Batters said the horticulture sector is capable of delivering more nutritious food, and growers are well placed to contribute to energy security for the nation and help reach the 2040 net zero target.

“To meet this ambition, government must deliver on the levers for growth in the sector it highlighted in its Food Strategy last summer,” she said.

NFU horticulture and potatoes board chair, Martin Emmett, said farmers and growers have gone without the government support they need for too long.

“For too long, we’ve only had warm words from government about how important the horticulture sector is but no detail on how it wants to achieve growth,” he said.

“Our strategy sets out the key cornerstones and actions government could take to enable growth for the sector, including incentives to promote investment in water infrastructure, long-term certainty on accessing seasonal labour, greater investment, and supportive national and local planning policy.  

“The time to act is now. We need a government that champions UK horticulture and recognises the benefits that home grown fruit, veg, plants and flowers deliver for the economy, health and our environment, and with a plan to demonstrate a tangible commitment to growers.”