UK horticultural growers could get access to new sources of funding in order to invest in technologies post-Brexit.
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 government is designing future policy so farmers can 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,” Mr Eustice said.
UK horticultural businesses have been reporting that access to seasonal labour has become a serious challenge.
The NFU’s labour provider survey has revealed 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.
Mr Eustice, however, said he 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 Mr Eustice said he is optimistic for a resolution.
Currently in discussions with the Home Office about future schemes, he promised: “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.