UK: Latest updates and key issues at Healthy Plants, Healthy Business conference

Plant health and biosecurity were the key topics of the day at the HTA Healthy Plants, Healthy Business conference, in association with APHA, which took place at Horticulture House in Oxfordshire on 29 January 2019.

The sell-out event, which attracted high profile speakers and delegates from across the industry heard from Lord Gardiner of Kimble, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, who set the scene for the day. He said that we should be proud that we are historically a country of plant hunters, and it is important that we now do all we can to protect the UK’s biosecurity. He flagged the fact that next year is International Year of Plant Health which will help to highlight the importance of plant health to the public and wider industry. ‘The new Plant Health Standard is a great way to help improve the health of plants within the industry. If we get the issue of biosecurity wrong, the consequences will be devastating’, he commented.

Professor Nicola Spence, Defra Chief Plant Health Officer, presented a plant health update, outlining the way in which new pests and diseases are added to the UK Plant Health Risk Register. She highlighted the range of pests and diseases that are posing the biggest threats including Xylella. Acknowledging that the development of the Plant Health Management Standard is a fantastic achievement she spoke about how they are looking at biosecurity across the whole system; not just plants but wood products, machinery, vehicles, direct sales and works of art.

Derek Grove, APHA Plant and Bee health EU exit manager then followed on discussing the impact and mitigations of Brexit on the trade of plants and biosecurity. Derek gave an overview of the current provision of biosecurity within trade at pre-border, the EU import regulations, at the border, and post border. He also covered what to expect on day one of a ‘no deal’ scenario for plants currently under the EU Plant Passporting scheme, those not under the Plant Passporting scheme, and the changes that will occur regarding border checks.

HTA Horticulture Manager Alistair Yeomans spoke about the Plant Health Assurance Scheme, and the launch of the Plant Healthy website. The new Plant Healthy website provides a self-assessment tool for horticulture businesses and organisations to improve the biosecurity of sourcing systems and advance plant health management practises. The free tool is available at: www.planthealthy.org.uk. The tool is based on the recently published Plant Health Management Standard (PHMS) – an initiative that Grown in Britain and HTA have been working hard to advance, along with many other organisations. The standard provides a set of requirements for businesses to meet, with a view to protecting the horticultural supply chain and the wider countryside from damaging pest and diseases. Although initially developed for the UK market, the standard is set out in a manner that enables it to be adopted internationally.

Currently the HTA is working with the Plant Health Biosecurity Steering Committee, chaired by Sir Nicholas Bacon, with a view to set up governance structures and appoint certification bodies, that will independently audit businesses. When the scheme is ready, and once successfully audited, a business will receive an assurance certificate enabling them to demonstrate that robust plant health management practises are integral to their operations.

HTA Horticulture Manager Alistair Yeomans comments, ‘The HTA is pleased to be working with the Plant Health Biosecurity Steering Group, government, NGOs and businesses to develop the Plant Health Management Standard. Threats from exotic pests and diseases present a great threat to our industry and the wider countryside. As such it is essential that organisations work in a coordinated way to reduce the risk of environmental damage from these harmful organisms.’

Rebekah Robinson from the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) provided insight into their own plant healthy policy and the work that they are doing to promote plant health to their members, visitors to their gardens and exhibitors at their shows.

The afternoon session brought industry perspectives from Jonathan Whittemore from Johnsons of Whixley, Richard McKenna from Provender Nurseries, Andy Bunker from Alton Garden Centre and APL Chairman Rod Winrow from Garden House Design. The final session featured consultant Celia Knight who spoke about the Plant Health Professional Register which acknowledges an individual’s competencies on plant health and provides an invaluable resource for Chief Plant health officers on plant health expertise nationwide.

In his concluding remarks HTA President Adam Taylor highlighted the extensive knowledge and passion that has been shared throughout the day and the importance of continuing to share this throughout the industry. In turn this will help to ensure that biosecurity and plant health stays at the forefront of industry developments for the future.

  • Event sponsors: headline partner – ICL, Exhibitor partner – Melcourt Industries and Branding partner – Burpee.
  • A full report of the event is available at www.hta.org.uk/planthealth
  • A separate release on the launch of Plant Healthy can be found at www.hta.org.uk/AreYouPlantHealthy
  • The full video footage of the Healthy Plants, Healthy Business event is available for £15. For more information please email events@hta.org.uk

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