Ditching of English horticulture strategy ‘beggars belief’

Industry bodies have hit out after the government ditched plans for an English horticulture strategy.

The promise to put together a plan for the sector, which is battling sky-high input costs and labour shortages, was made in the government’s wider food strategy published in June last year.

But this week, Defra farming minister Mark Spencer said the pledge was being scrapped because the sector operates in a “complex, ever-evolving commercial and political landscape”.

See also: Horticulture sector warns House of Lords of market failure

His answer to a written parliamentary question about the issue read: “We are prioritising policy work that maximises impact through multiple avenues.

“This includes establishing the seasonal worker visa route, the labour review, automation, the Farming Innovation Programme and the Farming Investment Fund and working across government on energy support and planning.”


Ali Capper, executive chairwoman of British Apples and Pears, told Farmers Weekly the move “beggars belief”.

“It is an extraordinary decision,” she said. “It is even more extraordinary that the minister appears to be making that decision at a time when the industry is in crisis and on a knife edge.”

Jack Ward, chief executive at the British Growers Association, also said he was “disappointed” that the government was not going ahead with the strategy.

He claimed the decision was symptomatic of a wider problem with short-term thinking in government.

“I do not think they feel in any way honour-bound to follow up on anything somebody else has agreed in the previous regime,” he added.

“Government is often much more focused on a triage approach than a long-term health approach.

“Nobody has ever got more than a few years to address anything, so you do not get a strategic view, you get a bunch of knee-jerk responses.”

Mr Ward’s comments came as Mr Spencer confirmed former Defra secretary Ranil Jayawardena’s plan to appoint an industry expert on controlled environment horticulture would also be scrapped.

The intention had been for the expert to provide a set of recommendations and policy interventions to support controlled environment horticulture growers.

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