Horticultural growers in the UK could get access to new sources of funding in order to invest in new technologies after we leave the European Union.
That’s according to Farming Minister George Eustice, who is seeking to reassure growers concerned about the impact of Brexit on their businesses.
In an exclusive interview with AHDB’s The Grower magazine, he said: “There’s an opportunity in the way we’re designing future policy in that we may have support to help people invest in new equipment and new technology.
“There’s an opportunity for horticulture to get access to that kind of support in the future in a way that it perhaps didn’t in the past.”
UK horticultural businesses have been reporting that access to seasonal labour has become a serious challenge, with the NFU’s labour provider survey revealing there was a 29 per cent shortfall in September 2017, with levels expected to be around similar levels this year.
The need for investment in new technologies for horticultural production systems and for robotics and automation to off-set the labour shortage is therefore more pressing than ever before.
Eustice, however, remains a ‘realist’ about the impact technologies will have on production in the short-term and the possibility of full automation of complex horticultural tasks, such as cut-flower harvesting. He believes mechanisation will be partial, rather than complete, with technology helping to speed up handling by enabling pickers to not carry trays up and down rows manually, for instance.
Many growers will remain concerned about the future availability of seasonal labour, particularly following the Brexit transition period that will ends in 2020, but Eustice is optimistic for a resolution. Currently in discussions with the Home Office about future schemes, he promises: “We will ensure that by the time we come out of that transition period we’ve got sufficient arrangements in place to make sure we’ve got the labour that we need.”
To address the challenge of access to affordable labour and increase labour productivity in horticulture, AHDB has launched the SmartHort campaign. It aims to improve management practices, support skills development and identify new technologies. Visit horticulture.ahdb.org.uk/smarthort to find out more.