The British Herbs conference and technical day was held on the 22nd February this year and saw a diverse group of topics covered. The speakers included an update on Coridaner Yield Decline from Amanda Jones. This project has taken a while to develop and it was good to see how it has been able to start to unpick the genetics of affected soils. It was especially interesting to see the new soil DNA analysis equipment which over the course of the project has changed in scale so that it is now almost a handheld device! Gillian Haythornwaite gave an excellent overview of the labour profile of the UK produce industry and the continuous efforts being made by gangmasters and recruiters to meet the labour requirements of the industry. A challenging picture was painted showing an increasing level of concern from labour providers that high quality labour will be more and more difficult to source and predicting in season shortages. Some advice was provided on how to work better with labour providers and students to ensure that staff are both sourced accurately to meet needs and retained once on farm. Again on the theme of labourt, WCG Pershore college showed members the benefits of the newest horticultural apprentice schemes. Several are being set up and run at Pershore and across the WCG group and the colleges are actively looking for organisations with both field and packhouse apprentice opportunities. DEFRA gave a whistlestop tour of the different schemes and systems in place to support development in horticulture. The teams open minded approach to the sector was very encouraging.
It was particularly interesting to see the presentation by Dan Parker of The Food Foundation. Dan spoke with passion of the new PR Campaign #VEGPOWER which is making strides in encouraging children to eat more veg. It's a simple message and one which has allowed the group involved to encompass both the Mc Donald's and the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstalls of the industry, getting them all behind the idea of increasing vegetable consumption for children. The project is being backed by British Growers and has huge goodwill across Government, PR and Advertising and Retailer, Food and Manufacturing industries. It seems like something that has a unique opportunity to impact consumer trends. A particularly sobering statistic quoted was that for every £1 spent on advertising fruit and vegetables £17.50 is spent on adverts for drinks confectionary and snacks. This excludes fast food outlet spending. 80% of children,95% of teenagers and 80% of adults are currently eating below the recommended portions of vegetables. On the upside this does represent a huge market opportunity for our crops. The scheme is due to formally launch at the end of this month and we hope to contribute some ideas, recipes, photos etc to the scheme. If you wish to get involved please let us know or contact #VegPower directly.
At the end of the schedule British Herbs gave a technical update outlining survey results and progress being made. In the last year we have worked on building ties with our French colleagues at Iteipmai and we hope to continue this collaboration and coordinate our approach to plant protection products. Claire Donkin gave an overview of the British Herb industry at the recent Iteipmai Medicinal and Aromatic Plant conference in Angers this Spring and we have made connections with a number of European counterparts where we hope to work more closely. Fingers crossed that despite Brexit, relations in the herb industry across Europe can continue to grow. The study tour this Autumn will continue this as we plan to visit a number of Iteipmai members.