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Future of Horticulture

This POSTnote summarises the multiple challenges facing the horticulture sector, the role of innovations in addressing these and the barriers to their adoption.

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Horticulture is a branch of agriculture that relates to the production, cultivation and management of edible fruits and vegetables, and ornamental plants.

The value of home-produced vegetables and fruit amounts to just under £1.8 billon and just under £1 billion, respectively, with the ornamental sector surpassing fruit production at £1.580 billion. Ornamental horticulture (the growth and marketing of plants for decorative and recreational purposes) is not covered in this POSTnote.

Fresh fruit and vegetables are fundamental to a healthy diet (PN 686). The  independent food system review, the 2021 National Food Strategy, stated that  healthy diets have declined in recent decades. The 2022 Government Food Strategy has committed to deliver “healthier, more sustainable and affordable diets for all”.

The horticultural sector has several interconnected challenges. The UK depends on imports from areas affected by climate change, with implications for reduced supply and increasing production costs. It also has historically relied on seasonal migrant worker labour, the supply of which is affected by external political factors.

Some commentators suggest investment in technological innovation may mitigate some of these challenges. Others contest this and suggest that reform of the supply chain infrastructure is required instead (PN 702).

Key Points

  • The horticulture sector cultivates various edible and ornamental plants, contributing to the provision of healthy diets. The UK is mostly reliant on imported horticultural produce.
  • The sector faces multiple challenges arising from high energy costs, low profit margins, trade barriers and a dependency on migrant labour, while also mitigating the implications of climate change.
  • Technological innovation could help to tackle some of these interconnected challenges. Innovations include automation, greenhouse optimisation, alternative growing media, genome editing, pest management using sensor data and AI-mediated crop monitoring.
  • Several barriers may prevent growers from adopting innovations. These include capital investment costs, technology readiness, skills and knowledge communication and ethical concerns relating to labour displacement.
  • However, innovation alone may not be sufficient to address all challenges in the sector. A systems approach that considers horticultural policies alongside wider economic, health and environmental policies may be required.

Acknowledgements

POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:  

Hannah Pitt (Cardiff University)*

Simon Pearson (University of Lincoln, LIAT)*

Derek Stewart (James Hutton Institute)

David Rose (Cranfield)

Richard Harrison (Wageningen University and Research)

Phillip Pearson (APS Group)

Raghavendra Prasad (Royal Horticultural Society)*

Jack Farmer (LettUs Grow)*

Laura Harrison (University of York)

Lee Stiles (Lea Valley Growers Association)*

Rosemary Collier (University of Warwick)

Nicola Harrison (Growing Kent & Medway, NIAB previously AHDB)

Jack Ward (British Growers Association)

Cathie Martin (John Innes Centre)

Miles Bate-Weldon (University of Sheffield)

Jason Silm (Cibus)

Sarah Blanford (Ceres AgriTech)

John Shropshire OBE (G’s Fresh)*

Jyoti Fernandes (Landworkers Alliance)

Suzy Russell (Community Supported Agriculture)

* Denotes people and organisations who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.

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Channel website: https://www.parliament.uk/post

Original article link: https://post.parliament.uk/research-briefings/post-pn-0707/

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