Horticulture must be treated as a prime asset and nurtured carefully as Britain leaves the EU, a high profile conference heard this week.

Anthea McIntyre, Conservative MEP for the West Midlands, told the Growquip conference in Stratford upon Avon that farmers and growers were the major stewards of our environment and needed continued access to innovation, new technology and research.

She said: "They need this to produce food in a sustainable way so that we can both feed the world and protect the environment for future generations.

"Horticulture is a key economic asset, and key to meeting the challenges presented by climate change and population growth.  In a post-Brexit world, Regulators and policy makers in the UK must - now more than ever - stand with the grower and the consumer in allowing this world-beating sector to thrive and grow."

Miss McIntyre, a member of the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee and Conservative employment spokesman, has produced two influential parliamentary reports - The Future of Europe’s Horticulture Sector - Strategies for Growth and Technological Solutions for Sustainable Agriculture.

Her speech touched on regulation, research and development, plant protection, pests and diseases and Brexit.

She said: "As we leave the EU, it is essential that the UK government, academia, industry, breeders, the agro-chemicals sector, growers and food manufacturers all work together to improve the translation of research into practice."

Miss McIntyre suggested that recent ministerial statements pointed to three reasonable assumptions about a future British Agricultural Bill:

# First, it will pay close attention to science based evidence and, if the science agrees, UK law will closely follow what the EU is doing.

# Secondly, it will offer the devolved administrations more control than they currently have.  

# Third, it will look again at risk versus hazard-based regulation so that agricultural legislation may be simplified.

She warmly welcomed the Government's announcement of  a £40 million grant scheme to boost countryside productivity through investment in cutting-edge technology and new equipment.

Under the scheme, she said, grants would be available to help farmers, including horticultural growers, to improve productivity through new technology to reduce cost or improve product quality. The funding could be used on diverse investments, from robotics to green technology.

She said: "This is a great opportunity for our growers and food processors to invest in the technology they need to boost productivity, competitiveness and, of course, sustainability.