West Sussex grower Martin Emmett was elected as the new chair of the NFU Horticulture and Potatoes board on Wednesday (16 March), replacing Ali Capper.
Emmett is an ornamental plant grower and a director of Tristram Plants, which is part of the Farplants co-operative which grows and markets over 2,000 plant varieties, and generates more than £50 million worth of sales through retail each year.
At the same time, Derek Wilkinson was re-elected as vice chair of the board, a position he has held since 2018. Wilkinson, a Warwickshire grower from Sandfields Farm, supplies G’s Fresh with spring onions, asparagus and other products.
Commenting on his appointment, Emmett said: 'I’m delighted to have been elected as Horticulture and Potatoes board chair and I’m looking forward to working with the board to ensure our industry has a bright future.
'I would also like to thank Ali Capper for her years of work as the chair of the board, navigating turbulent times and issues including the UK’s exit from the EU and ongoing labour shortages. I’m pleased she will remain on the board and look forward to continue working with her.'
Outlining discussions at his first NFU Horticulture and Potatoes board meeting as chair, Emmett said: 'Having been on the board for the last two years, I am more than aware of the critical work it does in representing UK growers against a backdrop of ongoing challenges and uncertainty.
Seasonal Worker Scheme
'At the board meeting this week, we discussed the latest situation with the Seasonal Worker Scheme wage, and the impacts for recruitment from the Ukraine conflict.
'We also discussed the cost pressures faced by our members, whether that is energy, labour, ag-chems, packaging, or a whole range of other inputs.
'Against these challenges, there remain some opportunities that we will be seeking to influence in the coming months.
'Firstly, there is the renewed promise by Defra to develop a productivity scheme that will replace the existing EU Fruit & Veg Aid scheme; something the NFU has been calling for, for many years.
'And we are looking to increase the number of events and workshops for members to provide them with the skills and techniques required to pass on cost price inflation to their customers.
Unexpected and unbudgeted wage inflation
'Much of the focus this week, however, has been with the proposed wage for the Seasonal Worker Scheme which has now been confirmed as a flat rate £10.10 per hour.
'There is no doubting this is better than the original proposals which would have seen wages of £12 or more for most businesses, but it is still an unexpected and unbudgeted wage inflation that couldn’t have come at a worse time for the industry.
'The impacts of Covid-19 on the industry are, thankfully, easing. But the effects of leaving the EU still have implications for our sector, and the impacts from the Ukraine conflict are rapidly rising up the agenda.
Ensuring the sector thrives
'It is clear 2022 will be another challenging year, and there will be much for the NFU Horticulture and Potatoes board to do.
'I, alongside my fellow board members, will do my utmost to ensure this sector not only survives, but comes out of the other end ready to grow and thrive.'