2020 Chairman Report

Written by Mat Prestwich
2020 Chairman Report

British Herbs AGM – March 4th 2020

Members and British Growers,
Apologies for not being with you but I am away on business and hoping desperately that I will be able to return bearing in mind the rise in cases of Covid-19 which I am sure are a concern to all but lets hope we get some respite soon.
I am sure that we are all now 100% British and a little less European and thankfully the ports stayed open, flights landed and took off and Christmas wasn’t cancelled. Whatever your voting choice, at least we are now, as a nation, taking some sort of action and we can now address and plan for the day to day issues that we may face after Brexit. I am sure the worries are still there and as an industry we should plan and mitigate as much as we can.
Issue that are not necessarily new but coming into sharp focus now include our real uncertainty around climate – what will this mean for the upcoming UK season? Labour requirements amid the new immigration laws and their impact on seasonal and ‘unskilled’ workers and lastly, the drive towards plastics and packaging in general bearing in mind the consumers desire for a cleaner environment.
Climate is a worry. Although I am not involved in UK farming to any great degree, we all clearly need and want UK produce but the real challenge is going to be how do we balance these needs and wants against the rising costs of production and an uncertain climate. We know full well and talk every day about how sensitive our products are to environmental impacts and crop losses due to heatwaves and excessive rainfall are now more common than ever, so being creative and inventive will be important. Vertical farming is certainly an option but tread carefully. The product is the most important factor in all of this (and price I hear you scream), and it is our responsibility to make sure that we don’t compromise on this. That is a very slippery slope.
Immigration laws and the points system. Far too much detail to go into here, but I have supported a recent letter written by Jack Ward and sent to the foreign secretary and here is an excerpt - 
“In 2016 shortly after the referendum, British Growers conducted a survey which indicated that the requirement for seasonal labour was in the region of 70,000 workers. As things stand following this announcement, we face going into the 2021 season with just 10,000 permits for non-UK workers, a shortfall of around 60,000.”
Just to heap further pain onto this, are we all prepared to pay higher prices for produce or products that require high amounts of labour to deliver? Minimum wage is rising and rapidly whilst food prices are being forced down.
Lastly, and area of real focus for us all, whatever sector you are in, is plastic and packaging waste. The consumers drive to minimise or eliminate single use plastics is accelerating quicker than the manufacturers of these materials can keep up with. Add to this the unspecific direction communicated by our customers (retail and other) and it is all rather a mess. Biodegradable one day, kerb side recyclable next, then paper and cardboard are an issue and so on. One thing we can guarantee is that this isn’t going away. I would urge company wide audits of your green credentials and leave no stone unturned when looking at your carbon footprint

When taking all of the above issues into account, where will our support come from. In terms of product specific support, I want to again thank the technical committee for their ongoing work. I just hope we can raise the c.£300 million needed to tackle some of the issues raised above! In all seriousness, please make sure that you communicate with and support Claire and her team as this help will be ever more important.
And where else? Will we get government backing and support?
In emails obtained by The Mail on Sunday, Dr Tim Leunig - an economic adviser to Chancellor Rishi Sunak - wrote that the food sector "isn't critically important" to the UK and farming and fishing "certainly isn't".
The UK has a "moral imperative" to produce its own food, the chief of the farmers' union has said after it emerged a senior government adviser argued Britain could import all produce.
Minette Batters, the president of the National Union of Farmers, hit back at suggestions the UK could copy nations such as Singapore and import all its food. These emails were clearly not ‘official’ but do we really feel supported?
Hold on tight, we are in for a bumpy ride.
Thanks finally to Coral and the British Growers team for their ongoing support.
Mathew Prestwich - Chair

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