English Horticultural Sector (Horticultural Sector Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 12:33 pm ar 19 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Ceidwadwyr 12:33, 19 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, before sowing seeds, one must have access to them and the right land on which to grow them. Of the report’s 167 conclusions and recommendations, only two relate to the seed from which all horticultural crops are produced and there is scant mention of our grade 1 land. These are serious omissions. Ironically, the remaining conclusions depend on them.

Post Brexit, the UK plant breeding sector seed suppliers are facing increased regulatory costs, delays and uncertainty. New plant health regulations have brought more bureaucracy, costs and problems in moving seed and breeding material to and from the EU; at least one breeding partnership between the UK and the continent has been cancelled.

The Government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency is not fit for purpose. At least 200 new vegetable varieties are currently affected by its delays and are stalled in the registration process. In a sector that is so dependent on seasonality, such delays can have a devastating impact on individual businesses. Some breeders are not submitting new varieties for registration. These problems pose an existential threat to horticulture growers’ future access to improved varieties, which will be essential to help them to respond to a changing climate, changing pest and disease threats, demands for more sustainable farming practices and changing consumer preferences.

Most of our vegetables and salads are grown on grade 1 land. I understand that much of this land is let on one-year farm business tenancies and that the rotations being practised are accelerating its degradation and threatening our food security. On the question of whether to continue to farm or to rewet these agriculture peatlands, does the Minister agree that it is better to carry on cropping them, protect the remaining carbon and reduce the overall GHG footprint through dynamic water level management and limiting the extent of summer water table drawdown combined with regenerative farming? This would spread the environmental impact over a longer timeframe and more tonnes of produce. Total rewetting raises the question of reducing food production capacity here and the vexed issue of offshoring, possibly to where worse practices take place. Furthermore, soils that have been waterlogged that are drained and then rewetted behave differently in their emissions of nitrous oxide and methane from soils that have never been drained, so carbon emissions might be reduced at the expense of increased emissions of more potent greenhouse gases.

I will go further than some today: I would like to see a radical rethink of how we translate our world-leading position in agriculture-related academic science into farm-level innovation and sustainable farming activity growth. The UK’s applied research base in crop science is too fragmented and lacks focus on key policy objectives. We need to learn from and copy what other countries have done in creating national centres of excellence and attracting investment in public-private projects and international partnerships, such as Wageningen in the Netherlands, Embrapa in Brazil and New Zealand’s Plant & Food Research. In conclusion, I make a plea to this and future Governments: stop making promises to farmers such that made to the horticultural industry which was broken only one year later.