8 March 2002

Horticulture jobs are under threat

JOBS and production in horticulture could be under threat, warns the NFU, which has launched a campaign to stop the drain of public funding from research and development.

Union president, Ben Gill, has reacted angrily to R&D cuts totalling £2m (19% in real terms) over the past five years and to DEFRA signals that there are more to come.

"Britains horticulture industry is built on its world-beating research programme," said Mr Gill at last weeks Horticulture in Focus event in London. Maintaining that work was key to ensuring the industry could respond swiftly to changes in consumer tastes and environmental demands, he said.

The Keep British Horticulture Growing campaign aims to keep projects under threat afloat. They include research to develop drought-resistant strains, medicinal crops, organic varieties, energy efficiency programmes and alternative crop protection measures.

Michael Holmes, chairman of the NFUs horticulture executive, called on the government to stand by its pledge to work in partnership with growers.

"Misplaced penny-pinching by government must not be allowed to sabotage our future." &#42

This will only lead to the export of hugely important horticulture production and jobs."

Total DEFRA and BBSRC funding has fallen from £15.7m in 1997/98 to £13.7m in 2001/02. At last months NFU AGM, farm minister, Margaret Beckett, confirmed R&D funding was being reviewed and could offer growers no assurances about future spending.

Levy-funded research over the same period has risen from £3m to £4m, but the NFU says the industry is not in a position to make up government shortfalls.