Growers debate topical challenges at HTA Contact Conference

With the theme of ?Surviving and Thriving?, the HTA Contact Conference for growers took place at Whittlebury Hall in Northamptonshire on 17 – 18 January 2017, alongside the APL Stone Seminar and BPOA Spring Conference.

Brexit was high on the agenda, alongside plant health, water legislation, seasonal labour, import substitution of Quercus (Oak), the Responsible Souring of Growing Media Scheme and plants for a sustainable 21st century city.

Joshua McBain, head of innovation, foresight factory, summarised the latest matters surrounding Brexit. For the garden industry we can expect to see difficultly around access to EU migrant labour and moving goods across the border. On a positive note, a boost for UK tourism can also be expected.

Jan de Vries, director of Boot and Dart nurseries in Boskoop, shared European industry concerns post Brexit. He recognised that as the UK imports most of its ornamental plants there will be huge implications for nurseries and highlighted that trade agreements will most likely focus on plant health.

Nicola Spence, chief plant health officer and deputy director plant and bee health, varieties and seeds, animals and plant health, DEFRA updated delegates on DEFRA?s activities surrounding plant health. She spoke of prevention, control, detection and resilience at borders. Investment has been made into the UK Plant Health Risk Register, launched three years ago, which is currently approaching 950 items at high risk.

Nerys Arch, propagation and environment manager, Boningale and Raoul Curtis-Machin, horticulture director, HTA, gave an overview on a plant health management system that is in development. Next steps are to ensure the system works for a nursery of any size. Several nurseries are lined up to pilot the system this year.

John Adlam, Dove Associates, updated delegates on the water legislation and the case for change to water abstraction management. The current problems surrounding the service that are to be resolved are: water abstraction is not linked to availability, the charges do not discourage waste and some users have a vast licence, but little usage.

Amy Gray, horticultural advisor ? Ornamentals, Fruit and Glasshouse Crops, NFU, explored the latest situation on seasonal labour which is exceptionally important to our industry. According to the 2015 NFU member survey one in three growers experienced problems securing an adequate supply of labour from the EU in 2015. There is now a call for a new seasonal worker scheme to help growers to secure labour.

David Brown, HTA?s policy advisor, who spoke on import substitution of Quercus (Oak) and why we import so much. Reasons for import came down to range, track record, hedging bets, lack of stability and price, however through closer working between the grower and customer we can get oak bought from the UK.

Catherine Dawson, technical director of Melcourt Industries, gave an update on the developments of the Responsible Souring of Growing Media Scheme. Developments included auditor involvement.

James Hitchmough, head of department and professor of Horticultural Ecology from the Department of Landscape at the University of Sheffield provided an insightful look at the sort of plants that are going to be required for a sustainable 21st century city. Latest predictions show that by 2050 the UK will have a similar climate to that of Bordeaux today.

Bruce Hartnett, managing director of Kernock Park Plants provided a fascinating overview of the research he undertook at part of his Nuffield Farming Scholarship travels around the world looking at technological advancement.

A panel session chaired by Raoul Curtis-Machin, horticulture director, HTA, gave delegates the opportunity to have their say on the day?s topics. Discussions included: Are there enough skilled young people entering the industry post Brexit? How viable is it to propagate in the UK? What would it take to do more home growing?

Discussions continued into the evening when delegates and sponsors from the three events came together for a joint dinner. Following a presentation from Thrive about the great work that they do in horticultural therapy, garden designer and RHS Ambassador Adam Frost spoke about his early years and his inspirations. He provided a candid and entertaining account of the challenges involved in putting together a show garden at Chelsea.

Many thanks to headline partner: London Stone, conference partner: ICL, and exhibitor partners Aggregate Industries, CED, CambridgeHOK, Citation, Ecovision, Global Stone Paving, Melcourt, Millboard, Towergate HTA Insurance and XL Horticulture.

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