18 January 2000
Climate levy threatens booming blooms — Gill

By Donald MacPhail

FARMERS leader Ben Gill has warned farm minister Nick Brown that government policy threatens booming sales of bulbs plants, flowers and shrubs.

Speaking on Tuesday (18 January) at the opening of the horticultural industrys HortEx trade event in Telford, Shropshire, the National Farmers Union president said ornamentals sales had increased by 42% in ten years.

Mr Gill was joined by Mr Brown for the launch of a new NFU report on ornamentals entitled Blooming Brilliant.

The report also reveals that the value of bedding plants has risen by 116% in the past 10 years, and that the UK grows more daffodils than the rest of the world put together.

Much of this increase is attributed to the growing popularity of gardening television programmes with celebrity gardeners, such as Charlie Dimmock of BBCs Ground Force programme.

Mr Gill said: “There is little doubt that the ‘Dimmock effect’ has produced a generation of green-fingered enthusiasts and re-awakened us as a nation of garden lovers.

“Behind this innovation are Britains commercial growers – the real celebrities of the latest gardening craze.”

But Mr Gill told Mr Brown that the Governments climate change levy, which penalises companies for releasing greenhouse gases, could badly hit growers, who are heavy users of heating and lighting.

“We have an industry that is investing in its future and has shown itself to be no shrinking violet in the face of fierce competition from abroad.

“What we need now is a partner in government, one that will nurture these shoots of success, not strip them of life.”

Mr Gill said 70% of growers had already taken steps to reduce the amount of heating and lighting used, while 60% have cut pesticide use by incorporating natural crop management techniques.

In his pre-Budget statement in November, Chancellor Gordon Browns said the 1 billion levy would deliver carbon savings of two million tonnes a year.

High-energy users will be given an 80% discount, provided they sign up to energy-efficiency agreements.

Exemption will be granted where electricity is generated from “new” renewable sources of energy and “good-quality” combined heat and power plants.

But, at the time, Mr Gill said no one in agriculture could sustain any levy and he warned that, unless there were exemptions for agriculture and horticulture, growers could be forced out of business.

While the Chancellor described a pesticide tax as “a useful tool”, plans were put on hold while a partnership approach with the agrochemical industry was explored.

Mr Brown told growers at HortEx that MAFF was committed to the industry, pointing to its 13m research and development programme.