The new regulations to National Living Wage introduced on 1 April 2016 are likely to increase labour costs and potentially affect the profitability of horticultural businesses, so how can you minimise these costs?
Technology: AHDB Horticulture has been working with industry to minimise the effects of the living wage, particularly around labour costs. One of the most direct ways of doing this is to fund the development of machinery which will cut down wage bills. To this effect AHDB is funding the development of a selective broccoli harvester. Once the technology has been developed, the principles will be used to develop harvesters for other crops. Recently, work has been funded to develop a prototype CP 153 - Robot demonstration for horticulture.
Other work in this area includes FV 368 - Desk Study: A technical review of available and emerging technologies for harvesting of Brassicas and whole head lettuce.
Waste: Increased waste means increased labour costs, so AHDB is working with WRAP to address this issue to look at tackling on farm food losses.
Genetics - Selecting the right variety is important to maximise vigour in terms of pest and disease resistance and drought tolerance. Even the architecture of the plant can have an effect on harvesting speeds in some crops. Sequencing of cropping is vital to meet customer specifications and can be managed by careful selection of plant variety and by sowing date.
FV 202g - Brassicas: an evaluation of autumn/winter cauliflower cultivars, spring cabbage cultivars and other winter Brassica crops, provides information on yield and quality of commercially available cultivars and new selections/cultivars grown in the major Brassica production areas of the UK. The project website is constantly being updated with new information and can be searched by year, seed house and cultivar.
FV 340a Vining peas: Extension of variety evaluation trials, results of which can be found in the Vining pea guide
Crop Protection: Growing healthy, vigorous crops with minimal pest, disease, nutrition and drought problems is another way in which growers can counter higher costs. AHDB has funded numerous projects on crop protection with this aim:
Diseases - It is important to be aware of different diseases affecting your crop, but also the diagnostic tools which can be used to predict disease occurrence.
AHDB Horticulture funded a Molecular Test (QPCR) For Clubroot in Soil and the first laboratory to offer the Clubroot Soil test commercially is now ready to offer this service.
Other diagnostic tools have also been developed:
Other useful crop protection projects are:
Sorting out pathogenic variation, so that resistant varieties can be developed in the future is paramount – projects such as FV 436 - Pea Downy Mildew diversity in the UK
09/12 Soil Nitrogen Supply for Field vegetables (Note RB209 fertiliser restrictions and NVZ restricted areas)
A number of Crop Walkers’ Guides have been produced by AHDB Horticulture – the most recent being Carrot and parsnip – other field vegetable guides are also available.
The AHDB Pest Bulletin is hosted on the Syngenta website and provides early warnings of potentially damaging pest attacks from a range of different crop pests, which is valuable for planning this season's agronomy programme. Information is updated on a regular basis, weekly during the growing season, as well as Rosemary Collier’s blog covering topical issues.
AHDB Horticulture releases a weekly email each Friday – Read it here every week.