The Plant Health in Horticulture bought over 100 delegates in the horticulture industry and world class speakers such as Professor Nicola Spence, Pippa Greenwood and Dr Ana Perez-Sierra together to discuss critically important topics on plant health, this was a major contribution from Wales during the International Year of Plant Health.

The virtual conference attracted over 100 participants, not only from Wales but across the UK and indeed the World, through being held online. Those attending have developed their knowledge from the wide range of topics covered, from biosecurity to disease diagnosis, and the fantastic virtual tours of Welsh plant nurseries.

Sarah Gould, Tyfu Cymru Programme Manager said: ‘The Conference speakers and nursery tours, along with the lively interaction by participants has shown, quite clearly, the breadth of the Welsh horticulture sector; providing the local food we eat and the plants for our gardens and parks, its expertise and especially its potential for further growth and investment’.

The conference covered major issues surrounding plant health and biosecurity in commercial horticulture with a focus on Wales. It described prevention, diagnosis, control and the mitigation of pests and diseases, giving growers information that they can apply directly to their business so they can become more resilient.

During the conference Pippa Greenwood highlighted the importance of the industry to the economy, contributing £24 billion to the UK economy each year and employing 568,700 people – that’s equivalent to 1 in every 62 jobs! Pippa also highlighted the opportunities for the industry - horticulture is an international business but there is a clear opportunity for more home grown. Key challenge where also noted, which include biosecurity risks, changing plant passports and border checks, but also innovation in the industry, including online selling and click and collect services.

The most cost-effective method of controlling pests and disease is to stop it arriving in the first place. Nicola Spence, the UK Chief Plant Health Officer and Martin Williams, Welsh Government Plant Health Officer, highlighted that Ash Dieback for example is likely to cost £15bn in trying to repair the damage it caused. So, compliance with government legislation and good practice in biosecurity are essential to the horticulture industry. Will Ritchie from the National Botanic of Wales shared some of this good practice, including how they quarantine new plants, maintain a database with plant passports and sorting records, and basic hygiene practices.

The most common route of the spread of pests and diseases is through the movement of plants around the country. The Plant Healthy certification and management standards. It has been developed to enable businesses to demonstrate they comply with the Standard. This is a significant development which will encourage improvements in plant health leading to a more resilient horticulture industry.

Diagnosis is a critical stage in the control of Pests and Diseases, Dr Ana Perez-Siera gave a fascinating talk on how Forest Research uses horizon scanning whilst looking for threats and identify trends on patterns of disease spread to enable the use of early warning systems.

Among the highlights of the conference where virtual tours from experienced growers. Crug Farm explained how their niche market of growing plants from seeds is an efficient method in controlling plant health. Followed by Nick and Pat Bean from Springfield Produce who shared how accessing research programmes has enabled them to expand their produce line and control plant health. An interesting tour with Bransford Webbs demonstrated how their use of predators to combat pest and disease was advantageous to chemicals at seeking out pests. They also explained how their move to biological controls where possible, is easier to apply, safer for staff and more environmentally friendly.

Dr David Skydmore who chaired the conference said: “The Plant Health in Horticulture Conference has had a stupendous line-up of experts giving presentations that have given invaluable information for the industry. Tyfu Cymru has done an exceptional job in bringing these speakers together from Government, the horticulture sector and research. Tyfu Cymru has provided one of the major events for the International Year of Plant Health, demonstrating that Wales is at the forefront of promoting plant health and a sustainable horticulture sector. Those attending have developed their knowledge from the wide range of topics covered, from biosecurity to disease diagnosis, and the fantastic virtual tours of Welsh plant nurseries.”

Closing the conference, Sarah Gould revealed how as a result of the conference, Tyfu Cymru has committed to establish a 2-way forum, feeding in and feeding back between Welsh Government and industry stakeholders. A programme of online discussion session to discuss plant health, further virtual tours and a dedicated resource section on the programme website will also be made available.

In summary the conference showed that as an industry, we need to be proud of supplying healthy plants and food to our nations, we need to be proud of working towards the goal of combating hunger and we need to be proud of our part in contributing to the limitation of global heating. But we need to continue to do so – and that means, without any doubt, that we need to maintain and improve on already high plant and food standards. Making sure practices are environmentally friendly, so that we really are a green industry in practice not just in name. We all have a role in protecting the industry and environment, for the long term.

Conference sessions remain available to view:

The Plant Health in Horticulture Conference was 100% fully funded by Tyfu Cymru in collaboration with the National Botanic Garden of Wales. Tyfu Cymru has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities - Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.