Bring Horticulture out of the shadows

Detailed findings of the Horticulture Committee’s 11-month investigation in the House of Lords report

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With commendable contributions from industry experts1, the House of Lords “Sowing the seeds: A blooming English horticultural sector” report, is a must read analysis of the current and future of UK horticulture industry.

From the outset, the report acknowledges the importance of UK horticulture, in terms of its economic contribution (worth £5 billion p/a, employing 50,000+) and as key deliverer of environmental targets. However, despite its economic contribution, the committee finds that the future of UK horticulture looks bleak, if the challenges remain unaddressed.

The industry faces “longstanding challenges that have placed barriers in the way of what can and should be a thriving national sector”. The sector is widely misunderstood, poorly promoted and too often viewed as the poor relation of agriculture. With limited to “patchy” governmental oversight, both the professional and amateur horticulture sectors are facing challenging circumstances that could put their future in jeopardy.

The committee did stipulate, that with the right support, policies and funding, the horticultural sector can thrive and become a world leader in sustainable practices and policies.

The longstanding industry challenges

  1. The absence of a dedicated horticultural strategy due to poor ministerial oversight and acute lack of cross-departmental working have led to costly delays and inefficiencies in decision-making. Both ornamental and edible horticulture are treated with limited importance and urgency by policymakers but the ornamental sector especially is overlooked. “Horticulture has often been the Cinderella sector when compared to its larger, and often seen as more important, but intertwined sector of Agriculture”, affirm garden designers, Jonathan Sheppard and Adam Frost.
  2. The sector continues to struggle with long-term skills and education gap leading to critical staff shortages and failure to attract new talent as the industry continues to be perceived as unattractive. Horticulture is not sufficiently embedded within the education system and careers guidance programmes. To surmount the skill gap, the sector has long relied on seasonal migrant labour, with the complications of visas and their changing validity policies making planning difficult for growers.
  3. The ongoing impact of EU Exit combined with the COVID-19 pandemic and conflict in Ukraine has led to an erratic and confusing trading environment that is squeezing horticultural exports and delaying the imports. The market uncertainty inhibits capital and potential for vital R&D, which is fundamental to meeting the challenges facing the horticulture sector.
  4. Growers face ever increasing (energy and resources) costs and strong pricing pressure – “the race to the bottom”, from supermarkets, retailers and garden centres, with strong competition from cheaper imports. If the status quo is simply accepted, we run there is a big risk we may “drive out the next generation from our sector”.
  5. Poor roll-out and communication on the forthcoming peat ban, with a lack of funding into research on alternatives.

Harnessing industry potential

The report calls on the government to take steps to safeguard the future of the sector and harness its potential. Listed are some of the main strategies called for by the Horticulture Committee of the Government, to safeguard the future of the (ornamental) sector:


  • Establish a cross-departmental horticultural sector working group, to include participants from Defra, DfE, DHSC, DBT, DESNZ, and the Home Office.
  • Appoint a Minister with specific horticultural responsibilities to provide direction and accountability for the sector.
  • Reassure and guide the horticultural sector through longer-term planning cycles and the publication of the promised “Horticulture Strategy for England”.
  • Champion widespread adoption of the Plant Healthy Certification Scheme to increase biosecurity, make the scheme compulsory and provide support for SMEs to achieve accreditation.
  • Communicate clearly and collaboratively with industry during implementation of the Border Target Operating Model (BTOM) and make good promise to work with importers to clarify procedures and ensure complexity and cost is minimised. Plus review the possibility of easements for SMEs and clearly setting out the costs associated with operating and using Border Control Post (BCP) and Control Posts. Keep the risk model proposed in BTOM under review and provide more clarity to accompany risk status updates.
  • Set out plans including costs and timeframes for the implementation of the Authorised Operator Status (AOS) approach scheme and keep the relationship between the Windsor Framework and the BTOM under review to ensure effectiveness.
  • Digitise ‘Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora’ (CITES) processes and scrap import permits to reduce paperwork duplication. Review administrational cost to allow SMEs to trade effectively and provide flexible mechanism to protect legitimately traded plants being destroyed due to incorrect paperwork. In the case of no-fault destruction of consignments, consider a mechanism to reimburse growers.
  • Urgently publish responses to: the Automation in Horticulture Review, the Independent Review of Labour Shortages, the Consultation on the Common User Charge, and the Consultation on the Review of the R&D Tax Reliefs Review.
  • Publish Land Use Framework and continue to provide tailored communications to the horticultural sector, particularly to growers of ornamental plants on ELMS schemes. Eligibility for the scheme should be broadened to make ELMS more accessible to land managers in the ornamental horticulture sector, including to those who manage land in urban spaces such as community gardens.


  • Recognise horticulture as an energy intensive industry and ensure the sector is eligible for the Energy Bills Discount Scheme support for Energy and Trade Intensive Industries (ETIIs) scheme.
  • Conduct and publish its review of fairness in the horticultural supply chain, including ornamentals in the scope.
  • Refresh the Groceries Supply Code of Practice (GSCOP) to embed the 7 Golden Rules identified by the Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) and review if scope and remit of the GCA can be widened to broader supply chain relationships, processors, wholesale purchasers and Ornamentals
  • Ensure continued fertiliser production in the UK to help mitigate the effects of price volatility and support effective R&D to reduce dependence on nitrogen and phosphorous-based fertilisers.
  • Work with industry to promote a British kitemark for UK plant products in tandem with a campaign to help consumers recognise what is unique and special about British produce.


  • Put horticulture on the curriculum as a stand-alone topic within the science curriculum at all Key Stages. Furthermore, career guidance teachers and counsellors should be given far more information about horticultural careers including those at university and research levels and to support them in pointing students to the varied opportunities available. Qualifications should be encouraged but they should not be a barrier to entry.
  • Expand the remit of The Institute for Agriculture and Horticulture (TIAH) remit to include the ornamental sector as soon as is feasibly possible. Any such expansion must be adequately staffed, funded, and supported. Support the TIAH to ensure that its careers programmes and schemes reach young people and new entrants from under-represented backgrounds.
  • Review T Levels should be reviewed after first year with a view to allowing land-based colleges to deliver the work-experience element of T Level courses on site. The Government should also support providers of the Agriculture, Land Management and Production T Level to raise awareness of the qualification amongst potential students and in the industry.
  • Reform the apprenticeship levy. Introduce flexibility to support delivery of training in rural settings (eg. removal or lowering of minimum thresholds for attendees for training courses). Support the “bite-size learning” of specific skill sets to up-skill existing workforces. Open up the apprenticeship levy to seasonal workers or provide an alternate training scheme for them to support SMEs who rely on this workforce.
  • Encourage universities offering Plant Science, Horticulture or Botany to revise modules to the skills needed in the sector and ensure their graduates are trained to meet the challenges of the industry. The Department for Education should offer advice and support. The committee supports the recommendation of the Independent Review that further and higher education funding bodies should review food supply chain-related subjects to ensure courses are well resourced and that recurrent and capital funding is enhanced and protected in the long-term.


  • Produce a strategy to ensure that there are sufficient skilled workers available in key areas as recommended by the Independent Review into Labour Shortages in the Food Supply Chain.
  • Publish its review of the seasonal worker route, as promised in response to the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration’s December 2022 report. It must also respond to the Migration Advisory Committee’s latest Review of the Shortage Occupation list.
  • Convene a meeting of retailers and the NFU, with representation from seasonal workers, to discuss the welfare issues.
  • Review options to make local housing and transport more affordable to ensure that local people are not discouraged from taking up seasonal work. Ensure flexibility in the tax and benefits system is being properly advertised to claimants who may wish to move into work temporarily, and to ensure that government departments are communicating with one another about these opportunities.
  • Commit to data collection to understand number of seasonal workers needed in the UK in the short, medium, and long-term. Once these figures are collected, a seasonal workers workforce plan should be published.
  • Extend seasonal worker scheme visa to nine months, and employers should bear the consequent cost of the NHS surcharge incurred after six months. Process the visas of returning seasonal workers at cost.


  • Bring forward legislation and detailed guidance to provide clarity and certainty for the sector on how the peat ban will work in practice, including enforcement measures. It should not implement a total ban until it undertakes a full, revised impact assessment. Furthermore, appoint an existing sector body or group of representative bodies to spearhead the transition.
  • Clearly outline if the peat ban applies to imported products and set out a plan to safeguard the domestic market against peat-grown imports in collaboration with the Office for the Internal Market. Furthermore, work better with its international trading partners, particularly the Netherlands and the devolved administrations, to design a collaborative approach to peat-free.
  • Set out how the proposed ban could unintentionally cause environmental damage stemming from use of alternative growing media and how it intends to prevent or mitigate such damage.
  • Work closely with the sector to establish a realistic list of exemptions to allow more time for R&D innovation into alternative growing media. It must work with the industry to set a minimum standard for quality.
  • Continue to provide funding to support research into viable alternatives to peat in collaboration with the industry and academics. Establish a communications campaign for the professional sector to increase awareness of the viability of alternatives to peat and communicate the findings from its research projects in collaboration with the RHS.
  • Set targets for the reduction in use of agri-chemicals that are demonstrably harmful, including certain pesticides and fertilisers in the horticulture sector. Consult with the sector on a realistic timeframe for implementation and consider mandatory bans if voluntary action is not forthcoming.
  • Detail how the proposed Horticulture Strategy will support the sector to transition to sustainable water management practices and achieve the ambitions announced in the Plan for Water. Furthermore, work with the industry to support campaigns for industry to help businesses and consumers to reduce water use in professional and amateur horticultural settings.
  • Review available incentives for energy intensive horticultural businesses to transition to renewable energy in order to build resilience to future energy shocks and make progress towards net zero.
  • Work with industry influencers such as the RHS to develop a simple messaging campaign to raise awareness amongst consumers about environmentally-friendly and climate resilient growing in domestic settings and provide clear guidance on pollinator-friendly species.
  • Ensure local authorities have a consistent approach to permitting the kerbside collection of plastic garden waste for recycling. Consult on banning the retail sale of artificial grass and plants for outdoor use.

Research & Development

  • Urgently publish a response to the “Automation in Horticulture Review”, the Independent Review of Labour Shortages, the Consultation on the Common User Charge, and the Consultation on the Review of the R&D Tax Reliefs Review.
  • Give urgent attention to the need for some R&D institutions to receive longer-term core funding for advances in edible and ornamental horticulture.
  • Undertake a comprehensive review of the future direction of research and development in horticulture and its funding landscape. Public-private partnerships should be supported by Government in both policy and funding models to bind the fragmented landscape, emulating the Dutch ‘triple helix’ model interactions between academia, industry and government to foster economic and social development)
  • Re-think its preoccupation with competitive short-term funding as the only solution and give urgent attention to the need for some R&D institutions to receive longer-term core funding for advances in edible and ornamental horticulture.

Health & Community

  • Mandate that all local authorities are required to devise an allotment strategy as part of local plans, and to identify suitable land and training/mentoring partners as part of this strategy.
  • Fully update the National Planning Policy Framework to recognise and reflect the role of community growing in local food security and biodiversity, as well as for its socio-economic benefits.
  • Recognise the role the domestic horticultural sector can play in supporting health, wellbeing and climate change agendas. It should recognise nutritional security as a public good and properly incentivise horticultural growers to deliver against its public health ambitions.
  • Publish the findings from ‘Preventing and Tackling Mental Ill Health Through Green Social Prescribing’ programme at the earliest opportunity. Develop an action plan to mobilise social prescribing and nature-based solutions to ill health and implement proper regulatory oversight of such systems.
  • Consider how the health of those professionally engaged in the horticultural and wider agricultural sector can be supported to access mental and physical health services appropriate to the occupational risks they face.


  1. The report included vital industry contributions from (amongst others); the HTA, RHS, YPHA, RBG Kew, Hillier Nurseries, Thrive, University of Sheffield, BALI, Ball Colgrave, the National Garden Scheme, Oxford Botanic Gardens, HortWeek and PlantLife.