HTA’s grower committee calls for action on labour shortages and post-Brexit trade controls

The Seasonal Workers Pilot should be extended in the short term to the ornamental sector to help with seasonal labour recruitment. If not, the shortage of labour is likely to result in increased prices, trees being left in the ground and plants not being processed.

These were the findings from a recent meeting of the Horticultural Trades Association’s (HTA) grower group, the Ornamental Management Committee. At the meeting, members shared their experiences of struggling to recruit seasonal workers. Agency staff being deployed to other sectors, a low take up and retention of roles that are advertised locally and being based in rural areas a recruitment challenge, were familiar stories.

Increased wages have been introduced by growers to help recruitment, but there is a concern of wage inflation impacting businesses. Committee members said that they want to recruit more as their businesses are expanding, with gardening continuing to be a growth sector, but it’s key to get the labour into the businesses to help meet this demand.

With the furlough scheme finishing last week, this may increase the number of people interested in seeking work with the sector. One member also reported launching an 18-strong apprenticeship scheme and a workplace academy, which will help them address issues of developing a future full-time workforce.

During the meeting members also called for the government to work with the industry on a more self-regulatory, more collaborative approach to plant import inspections and checks to help develop enhanced biosecure supply chains for cross-border trade. This will reduce the increasing bureaucratic and cost burden being placed on UK horticulture businesses. The HTA will propose this solution in its response to the recently published government Plant Health Strategy.

There was scepticism that the proposed Border Control Posts from July 2022 for post-Brexit trade would be ‘fit for purpose’. Struggles with importing key crop protection products was also raised as an issue frustrating growers as they seek to maintain health plants. A cross-trade body approach to government was approved.

Sustainability was also on the agenda, with the HTA agreeing to highlight to the Environment Agency the importance of water abstraction to the industry, alongside continuing their Roadmap plans to improve water efficiency. Members also endorsed continuing collaboration between the HTA and NFU to highlight growers’ needs on exemptions for certain plants and facilitating knowledge exchange between growers in adapting to peat reduced mixes.

Jonathan Whittemore, Vice-Chair of the OMC, who chaired the meeting, said:

“We’re a ‘green economy’ sector in growth, providing the very products that help tackle climate change and achieve Net Zero. Growers have always focused on recruiting locally, providing meaningful work to many. However, given the seasonal nature of our industry we need a more flexible approach from government. We’re asking for an extension of the Seasonal Workers Pilot to help bridge the current shortfall. It shows a lack of knowledge of horticulture to put an arbitrary divide between edibles and ornamentals through the Seasonal Workers Pilot scope. We want to work collaboratively with the government in how to develop a future-facing workforce, but a level of recognition of the industry’s immediate needs is crucial if we’re to progress and grow.”