Horticulture - a question of growing potential

 

Plans for boosting the horticulture sector across Europe were under discussion in Brussels this week at a hearing called by British MEP Anthea McIntyre.

Miss McIntyre, Conservative MEP for the West Midlands, is lead negotiator for the European Parliament on plans to introduce new strategies in the sector to boost productivity, competitiveness and income.

She called the hearing, along with the chairman of the Parliament's Agriculture Committee, in order to hear the widest possible range of expert advice before drawing up her initial report.

In advance of today's meeting at the European Parliament she said:  "Horticulture is an important and expanding part of agriculture right across Europe, but we believe it has the capacity to contribute even more to the overall food-production mix.

"Changing technology is leading to rapid advances to do with growing conditions and husbandry, which means the potential for further expansion and better yields is huge. This sector can start to play a hugely important role in addressing issues of food security and affordable nutrition."

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/ep-live/en/committees/video?event=20130709-0900-COMMITTEE-AGRI 

Above is a link to the Public Hearing on "The future of Europe's Horticulture sector - strategies for growth"

The future of Europe's Horticulture sector - strategies for growth (INI). The hearing took place in the Committee of Agriculture and Rural Development and was organised by Anthea as the draftsman (Rapporteur) of the Committee report on horticulutre, also entitled "The future of Europe's Horticulture sector - strategies for growth".

The Indian economy is one of the world’s fasted-growing and, as the country becomes richer, its huge population offers British companies a massive trade opportunity.

As negotiations to introduce a comprehensive free-trade agreement between the EU and India draw towards a close, West Midlands MEP, Anthea McIntyre seized the opportunity to visit India and promote the West Midlands region.

“I had meetings with Mr Shanta Kumar MP, the Chairman of the Indian Parliament’s Committee on Commerce; with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and the local Chamber of Commerce in Bengal and all were very keen to increase trading links with the UK and West Midlands region in particular,” Miss McIntyre said.

“There is a huge market for high-quality goods and services in India and it is a rapidly expanding market that local firms should regard as a prime target for new exports.

“I had an especially useful meeting with the European Business & Technology Centre staff in Calcutta and learnt about their support for companies looking to sell in the Indian market.  I would strongly recommend that any local business looking to export to India get in touch with them at an early stage.

“Another key contact would be the British High Commission office.  They have a huge amount of information and local knowledge which British exporters will find invaluable.

“The UK’s historical links with India are important to much of growing Indian middle-class and the appetite for British goods and services is huge.”

(Photograph shows Anthea McIntyre MEP with Leena Pishe Thomas, Regional Manager of the European Business and Technology Centre, Calcutta.)

Article by Anthea McIntyre MEP.

I am currently working on a new report on the future of horticulture in the EU – a sector which has been neglected at EU level.  The sector is a vital part of European agriculture but the committee has never reported on it before, even though it has specific challenges and great opportunities for growth.

To put the sector into context, fruit and vegetables represent 3% of the EU’s cultivated area but 17% of its agricultural production. The total production value is estimated to be more than 50 billion euros.

My report, A future for Europe’s horticulture sector – strategies for growth, will cover edible, ornamental and other non-food crops and will include a look at the barriers to the industry’s economic growth and competitiveness and the changes in policies required to help it overcome them.

I would welcome comments and views from any growers or grower organisations – ideally by the end of June – so that I have a ‘bank’ of  practical  examples of the issues facing this sector  that I can cite as necessary.  I shall have a stand at ‘Fruit Focus’ on 24th July in East Malling and will be delighted to see any SWVA members there too and, although very late, will try to incorporate any crucial points into the report.

The timetable sees the publication of my draft report in August followed by a period for consideration of amendments culminating in the formal presentation and adoption of the report by the Agriculture Committee in October and by the whole EU Parliament in November.

I hope this will be a real opportunity for the industry, particularly in the UK, to influence EU policies that affect it.

EU Agriculture Committee to visit UK vineyard

I am delighted to have arranged for members of the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee to visit the West Midlands in July.  Their visit will take in Three Choirs Vineyard at Newent.

I wanted to include Three Choirs in the programme for this visit as it gives us the opportunity to showcase another aspect of our diverse and thriving Region and will, in part, help inform members of the committee about some of the issues that will be addressed in the report mentioned above.

I am determined that my colleagues understand the importance of horticulture, viniculture, livestock and other agricultural sectors to the West Midlands and UK economies.

Planting Restrictions

It has long been the position of UK grape growers and wine makers that the industry should be constrained only by regulations to protect consumers and the environment – measures such as Planting Restrictions and subsidies to growers merely distort the market and provide an excuse for potential export markets to apply tariffs to ‘compensate’ for the subsidies. 

At the moment, the UK has a temporary exemption from the Planting Restriction rules but their existence and their impact on the free operation of the market cannot be ignored.

The British Government and Conservative members of the European Parliament, working alongside our colleagues from Denmark and Sweden, are actively pursuing an end to the Planting Restrictions as a part of the overall reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).  It is worth remembering that Planting Restrictions were originally introduced in 1976 as a short-term measure and were due to expire in 1978 but have subsequently been extended ten times!

Like much European regulation, the current system seeks to distort the market because it is not based on the needs of consumers (allowing them access to wines they choose to buy at a price that is determined by the market) but rather seeks to protect some “traditional” producers who offer wine that nobody wants to buy.

The current position (as at early May 2013) is that the European Commission had recommended that Planting Restrictions should end on 31st December 2015 and the European Parliament (driven by the demands of Europe’s large wine-producing nations) counter-proposed that they should remain until 2030.  Faced with this counter-proposal, the Commission voted in favour of a new ‘authorisations’ system to replace Planting restrictions.  Such authorisations would be time limited, have a potential increase of 1% each year – which could be a slight opening of the market – and would come into effect from 1st January 2019. The scheme would run until 2024, at which point it would either fall or be extended, based on a Commission report and proposal.

If agreed, this would be a tiny step forward but fails to address the real issue – why are regulations in place that distort the market? 

The answer to that question is (inevitably) complex but perhaps can be summarised as existing to protect the long-established wine producing nations against competition from the New World producers and smaller European producers such as the UK. 

The relative decline in wine-consumption in southern Europe is counter-balanced by growing consumption in northern Europe and, most excitingly for UK producers, in export markets such as China, Brazil and North America.

One thing that these protracted and, as yet, unresolved negotiations prove beyond doubt – once you create a system that includes subsidies and restrictions on free-trade then the process of dismantling them will be lengthy and painful. 

 

All too often we take grass for granted – it’s just ‘there’ and it grows, gets mowed, trampled, sat on, used as the setting for us to score the winning goal or hit the ball out of the ground.

But for farmers and those who wish to enhance our environment grass is much more.

West Midlands MEP Anthea McIntyre visited Inkberrow-based DLF Trifolium, the UK’s largest and fastest growing grass seed company, at one of their plant breeding stations at Hailes Farm near Didbrook to see for herself the work being done to improve the seeds for agricultural, amenity and domestic use.

 “I knew that some grasses were more hard-wearing than others and that some grew faster than others but I was staggered to learn so much more about grass and the huge amount of science that lies behind the seeds available.  I was astonished to learn that it can take up to 18 years to breed a single new strain of grass.”

“From special mixes for cattle or sheep to Game Cover, Root Crops and Mixtures and Stewardship Mixtures - the range is comprehensive and includes products for Green Manuring and much more.

“The work done by DLF Trifolium is amazing and I am very grateful to Laurence Scowen, the MD of DLF Trifolium and all his staff for showing me a little about this important but oft-overlooked aspect of the UK’s agricultural industry.”

(Photograph shows Anthea McIntyre MEP (right) with (l to r) Dr Penny Mapleston, Chief Executive of the British Society of Plant Breeders Ltd (BSPB), Tony Strickland (UK Technical Manager and Plant Breeder) and Laurence Scowen (Managing Director) looking at trail beds at DLF Trifolium)