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Digging Into Horticulture

Digging Into Horticulture

Food Production in the UK after Brexit

The question of domestic food production in the UK after Brexit is a hot topic – for farmers and growers, politicians, retailers and, of course, for the public who are increasingly concerned about the origin of their food, pricing and imports. Large scale horticultural businesses in the UK are heavily dependent on migrant labour, but Brexit risks losing access to this pool of low skilled labour. To maintain a continuous supply of fruit and vegetables to support a healthy diet, we need to support and develop the next generation of UK growers.

Our new report, ‘Digging into Horticulture: Encouraging the Next Generation of Producers’, considers how we best achieve that support.

Horticulture Riverford

Migrant labour

The reality is that low-skilled seasonal jobs in horticulture today are physically hard and poorly paid. While some have suggested that these low skilled jobs could be taken up by UK workers to fill the migrant labour gap, it is unlikely. The terms of employment are far from optimal. They consist of long hours, low pay and repetitive work. Since it is unlikely that UK workers will take on these roles, it is essential that access to migrant labour be maintained. Read our blog on immigration and farming here.  However, going forward, Government and industry need to work together to improve the working conditions of these jobs to make them fairer and less arduous.  

Can we get young people to dig into horticulture?

While it is unlikely that young UK workers will take up low-skilled, seasonal jobs, it is possible that they could be encouraged to consider more senior or technical roles. Currently, research shows that the majority of UK millennials have a negative perception of horticultural careers and this perception dissuades UK workers from considering a career in the sector. This attitude was borne out on the study-visits to large-scale horticultural enterprises with millennials this summer. Read about the experience of our participants here. However, this understanding isn’t truly reflective of the reality of the more senior and technical roles, which offer better opportunities.

Our new report, ‘Digging into Horticulture: Encouraging the Next Generation of Producers’, investigates how businesses can step up to motivate millennials to help produce UK fruit and vegetables. This can be achieved by connected to the new generation’s priorities. Business should emphasize the ethos of horticulture that dovetails with the career expectations of millennials, who are looking for meaningful careers and value community and ethical practices.

By highlight the autonomy, social responsibility and community engagement of the horticulture sector, young UK workers might be willing to consider jobs in horticulture. By improving conditions and perceptions of horticultural careers, the sector will stand a better chance of appealing to young people and inspiring the next generation of workers into the sector.

Millennial Women Digging

In order to increase recruitment into horticulture, we make the following recommendations: 

For Government

  • The UK Government should guarantee and publicly commit to a fully functioning immigration system post-Brexit, which ensures farmers and growers have adequate access to labour.
  • Government should create an industry-wide action plan to address the needs of the sector through the establishment of a permanent sector-wide standing committee hosted by Defra.
  • Government should guarantee to continue current commitments to the EU Fruit and Vegetable Aid scheme after Brexit with the aim of supporting the domestic production of fresh produce.
  • Government should commission an in-depth impact assessment into how technological automation in horticulture will influence the demand for labour and rural employment.
  • The Government-run Apprenticeship Levy should aim to encourage new entrants into horticulture from a more diverse educational background.
  • To reduce barriers to entry, Government should implement measures to address the shortage of affordable housing in rural communities and support access to land.

For horticulture businesses

  • The horticulture sector should come together with one voice, under one body, to better market the sector to the next generation. This will require an integrated strategy.
  • The sector should collaborate to develop an academic centre of excellence for horticulture studies that would professionally train new entrants to the highest standard.
  • To reach millennials, horticulture businesses should more clearly identify job entry points at different levels across the career ladder and better explain the variety of horticultural roles.
  • Growers should consider measures that increase employee empowerment and increase control in the businesses, including transitions in equitable ownership structures.
  • Horticulture businesses should develop contracts that offer greater flexibility, partnering with universities to attract students into both higher and lower-skilled roles.
  • Businesses should consider partnering with housebuilders on developments that incorporate affordable housing for workers that are co-located with horticulture.
  • Growers should bolster ethical practices and challenge sub-standard employment terms with the goal of eliminating modern-day slavery within the sector.
  • Large-scale growers should continue to strengthen ties with the local community to ease integration through social programmes (like football tournaments) and act to improve career progression opportunities.

If you’re interested in a career in growing, you can learn more about our Future Growers programme here. Future Growers has worked to train young growers and prepare them for careers in organic horticulture. Since its formation in 2007, the scheme has trained over 100 organic entrepreneurs, and has bought new energy into the field of sustainable fruit and vegetable production.

Keep up to date with our policy work on food and farming beyond Brexit here

Horticulture field 

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