Students on the BSc (Hons) Horticulture programme recently came together to discuss some of the findings from the Hadlow College Vision 50 whitepaper on the impact of Brexit.
The whitepaper, which was formulated from a roundtable discussion with industry, concluded that better financial sustainability is crucial for the sector as Brexit moves forwards so that food quality and the nation’s ultimate health is not compromised. The external perception of agriculture needs to be changed by better promotion of the sector, which could in part be assisted through the use of urban growing spaces and vertical farming techniques.
With Brexit, and the impact of the UK’s exit out of the European Union, occurring as the students commence their careers in the sector, the debate centred on the type of economy that the UK may become and whether it will move from a net importer of food (at present as a country we have 40% self-sufficiency) to more of a New Zealand model which is a net exporter. To do this, the students all agreed that the perception of the rural sector would need to alter, there may need to be a relaxation around the land-use regulations and an increase in the reliance of robotics would occur.
Consumer behaviour, food labelling and how food is sold were also debated as part of this larger issue. With students from the EU contributing as to how food is bought and sold in their countries, and comparing it to the high use of plastics and packaging in supermarkets within the UK, it was agreed that there needed to be a focus on preparing food (rather than prepared food) and on reducing the amount of food waste produced.
Consumer behaviour was also linked to their perception of the industry and challenges in the recruitment of sufficient labour. It was felt that vertical farming, the use of peri-urban spaces, robotics and hydroponics may all contribute to this change, with it being seen as the skilled profession it actually is. All of these innovations were felt to be necessary if the UK was to reduce its reliance on imports and move to a more sustainable future.
Whilst few of the students who participated would’ve been able to vote in the 2016 referendum, its impact on their future careers and opportunities is plain to see. Presenting an opportunity for the sector in terms of new markets and new entrants, it also has the potential to be a significant short-term disruptor. All concurred though that the sector is extremely resilient and will adapt to whatever external issues face it.