Speaking today at ‘Horticulture, The Conference 2023’, the Horticultural Trades Association’s (HTA) Chief Executive, Fran Barnes, made a strong call to action to politicians and policy-makers to deliver supportive measures or risk the sector that will deliver on net-zero. The speech, delivered in Birmingham to an audience of HTA members, politicians, and stakeholders, reflected on the substantive challenges faced by many businesses over the last year. However, environmental horticulture is an unparalleled industry in its ability to deliver economically, environmentally, and socially, and its strengths, such as innovation and resilience, must be celebrated.
Fran Barnes, Chief Executive of the Horticultural Trades Association, said: “Horticulture matters. It’s important to the economy; it delivers for the environment, and, as we’ve seen only too recently, it’s vital for our health and well-being. We know that many sectors claim to be special, to deliver for the country in a unique way. But there are very few – if any – that can match the economic numbers with the environmental benefits and the social value of environmental horticulture.
“We deliver £28 billion to the British economy. We support 674 thousand jobs, and we give 6 billion pounds in tax revenues. But moving from these hard facts, imagine a world with no horticulture. What a dismal place it would be – dismal to look at, dismal to live in, and dismal for the environment.
“But this is a vibrant industry. And it is resilient. You have had to be this year – a year that delivered the wettest March in 30 years, the warmest June since records began, and a July where the sun barely shone. Combined with the pressures on energy costs, access to a workforce;
record reductions in peat use but perplexing regulation that threatens success; delayed border changes with none of the detail you need to plan; and biosecurity threats. It’s been a tough year.
“But I’ve visited so many members in my first nine months at the HTA that I’m left in no doubt that this industry is innovative and passionate about finding solutions.
“I’ve seen cutting edge automation, further use of robotics, the science behind developing new growing media. All this is happening in our family horticultural businesses and in our global firms.
“These businesses – your businesses – cannot – and should not – be taken for granted. Plants don’t just appear on our shelves and in our gardens. The horticulture that we see every day – on city streets, in our gardens, and in our parks has been grown, nurtured, and developed by you – experts.”
Addressing the politicians and policy-makers in the room, Fran made a direct plea: “We need you to recognize the value of environmental horticulture in delivering across policy areas and create a regulatory environment that really does deliver green ambitions and green growth. Take, for example, extended producer responsibility. It has taken months to get the details and clarity on how this is going to work in practice for horticultural businesses. Let’s not go through that again in another policy area.
“We ask you to deliver effective and biosecure trade and borders which leads to seamless trade, not additional costs – the three-month delay to border changes is not enough time to prepare – we need the April date to either be postponed or a real soft launch with full and urgent action on detail and easements for SMEs
“We implore you to help the industry on its journey to peat-free – don’t create unachievable timelines but instead work with the industry to support a successful transition.
“We urge you to give certainty on the cost of doing business – like business rates. We need businesses in all four UK nations to be supported to invest rather than being hit by dramatic rate changes.
“And we need you to remember and champion our sector as part of the solution to the environmental challenges we’re all facing.
“We know we have the support of the British public. And we thank them for that. There are 200 million visits to UK garden centers a year. 30 million gardeners. We do not need to convince them of our sector’s value.”
‘Horticulture, The Conference 2023’ is the biggest conference of its kind for the sector. Hosted by Michael Perry, speakers will include Environment Minister Rt Hon Mark Spencer MP and Shadow Environment Minister Daniel Zeichner MP. There is a full agenda of panels, keynote speeches, and networking opportunities. It is also an opportunity to celebrate the horticultural sector’s instrumental role in shaping a sustainable and greener future.