Horticulture covers a wide and diverse range of crops, including field vegetables, top fruits, soft fruits, protected crops, ornamentals and potatoes, grown both outside and under protection. Although horticulture covers only 4% of agricultural land in the UK and one-tenth of the land occupied by cereals, it's economic value is greater than cereals. Because of its small area, there is an assumption that horticulture has minimal impact on the environment, and hence that there is little to be gained from reducing impacts on the environment compared to other sectors of agriculture. However, it is important to challenge this assumption and to determine whether horticultural impact is in the same league as it's land requirement.
This project would use environmental footprinting on eight sectors within horticulture and agriculture. These would assess the environmental impact of different cropping systems and allow a comparison across sectors to be made. Footprinting calculates the impact of a process, in this case growing a crop, in terms of natural land area needed to offset the activity using an ecological balance sheet. The inputs required to calculate an environmental footprint for growing systems include seed, fertilisers, water, energy, pesticides and labour.
Once the environmental footprints had been prepared the project would go on to consider the economic and socio-economic impact of horticulture on local economies, employment and rural communities relative to its environmental impact. This would be achieved in two ways: the construction of socio-economic footprints for the same eight sectors and by consultation with key stakeholders. Results could be reported at either local, county, regional or country level.
The aim of the project is to improve the understanding of the environmental effects of horticulture and its relationship with the social and economic impact of the horticultural industry in comparison to other agricultural sectors.