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.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, 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.
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.
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.
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.