Written Evidence submitted by the Ornamental Horticulture Roundtable Group (OHRG) (LS0021)


The OHRG is a partnership between industry bodies, professional organisations, gardening charities and Defra that champions the immense value of ornamental horticulture to safeguard the nation’s future.

The OHRG’s Education and Employment Working Group coordinates the sectors activity in skills development and recruitment whilst ensuring efficient and collaborative working relations with bodies from the fresh produce sector such as The Institute for Agriculture and Horticulture and the Edible Horticulture Roundtable Group.

We welcome the opportunity to submit evidence to this inquiry and the inclusion of the ornamental horticulture sector in presenting verbal evidence to the previous EFRA Inquiry into labour supply to the food and farming sector. The issues and outcomes of labour supply issues in the ornamental plant and cut flower industry run parallel to those found in the food supply chain so we hope our views will once again be carefully considered.


What is the extent and nature of the labour shortages in the supply chain currently being experienced?

Data on this is provided in evidence that is being submitted by:

National Farmers Union (NFU)an OHRG member

Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) – an OHRG member

West Sussex Growers Association (WSGA) – including evidence from an OHRG member

We also endorse the report by Grant Thornton into ‘Establishing the Labour Availability Issues of the UK food and Drink Sector’ (commissioned by the NFU and other food sector bodies) including its recommendation that the needs of ornamental plant production sector should be addressed alongside the food sector.

Essentially the situation in the ornamental plant supply chain mirrors that of edible horticultural crops but with two main differences:

  1. Ornamental plant production currently sits outside the scope of the seasonal workers scheme pilot.
  2. Ornamental plant production features key seasonal peaks on the shoulders of the main growing season. For example: the daffodil cut flower season is in the late winter/early spring and the main tree planting season is in the autumn. These two sectors face particular difficulties as most recruitment initiatives are focussed within the main production season of April – September?


What are the factors driving labour shortages?

With respect to ornamental plant production, the issues run parallel with edible horticultural crops; being based on similar peak seasonal requirements and rural localities. This is highlighted very effectively in the evidence you have received from the West Sussex Growers Association. Ornamental and edible Growers often share a similar locality for clear horticultural reasons (such as light levels) and are therefore often compete for the same pool of available labour, it is therefore vital that the needs of one sector are not addressed at the expense of the other.


What is the outlook for the labour shortage situation in the coming months and years?

Unless there is a drastic rise in levels of unemployment in the areas where horticultural production is concentrated, this will be at least a medium-term problem. Some forms of ornamental plant production, such as bedding plants, have already become highly mechanised but these types of growers are now feeling exceptionally vulnerable as a failure to recruit their residual labour requirement risks jeopardising their substantial investment in labour efficiency.


What other issues are affecting the supply chain?

With reference to impact on labour requirement, the following should be noted.

  1. Availability of pesticides: authorised for use in the UK (compared to global competitors). All forms of UK horticulture are suffering from a net loss of active ingredients, which in turn results in increased labour requirements as more time is spent in activities such as weeding and removing infected material. It is not unusual for the time required to prepare material for market to be doubled on account of this issue.
  2. Border biosecurity arrangements:. A large proportion of young plant (propagation) material is imported by UK growers, often from extremely biosecure and efficient operations that supply a global market. The costs and risks of irretrievable crop damage caused by the border security arrangement, due to come into full effect in July 2022, are forcing UK growers to consider home production on a smaller and often less efficient scale – that will require more labour.


What impact will the timetable for introducing physical checks on plant material at the border have on the UK supply chain?

The main issue for ornamental plants is not the timetable but the process itself and the costs associated with it. The prospect of delays and damage due to the proposed inspection process puts an untenable level of jeopardy in the supply chain without the benefit of enhanced biosecurity that a more optimised system could deliver. These issues are separately addressed in the HTA and NFU submissions.


What measures has the Government taken to alleviate the problems being faced by the supply chain this year? To what extent have they been successful?

All parts of the ornamental plant supply chain, as represented by the OHRG, have engaged with government to explore the benefit of initiatives ranging from workplace academies, to enhanced relations with DWP and Job Centre Plus. It should be noted that the landscape sector has been pre-eminent in developing and utilising Apprenticeship programs in recruitment campaigns and 2021 has seen a new Level 3 Crop technician Apprenticeship come online in crop production with a surge of interest from ornamental plant nurseries. These initiatives alone will not address the deficiency of available seasonal labour, which it is anticipated will become more severe next year – hence the repeated request for the inclusion of ornamental crops in the seasonal workers scheme pilot.


Does the government need to take further steps to support the supply chain?

Maximising the availability of skilled labour is a key theme of a strategy launched by the OHRG this autumn (See: Unlocking Green Growth: a plan for the ornamental horticulture and landscaping industry – )reference Supplied. This calls for:

  1. Government support for an audit of the training provision across the sector to assess gaps against skills needs. Subsequent recommended action should be implemented to ensure there is appropriate, funded skills provision to drive improvements and develop further opportunities.
  2. Expansion of the current Seasonal Worker Pilot to the ornamental horticulture sector or the creation of a new scheme to better reflect the broader nature of the sector’s seasonal labour needs.
  3. Recognition of the skills shortage in ornamental horticulture occupations in the Shortage Occupation List.

The Government should also have an immediate concern with respect to the fulfilment of its target to plant 30,000 ha of trees per annum by 2025. The current rate of tree planting is less than half of this (13,460 ha in 2019-20 – source Forestry Commission). This autumn there are verifiable reports of some amenity tree nurseries operating at reduced capacity due to labour shortages.





Martin Emmett, Chair of OHRG Education and Employment Working Group


Unlocking Green Growth: a plan for the ornamental horticulture and landscaping industry

Document can be accessed at: https://hta.org.uk/uploads/assets/0ad641c9-1768-4cd0-8f0652c13d2a5e26/Unlocking-Green-Growth.pdf


October 2021