Next month’s HTA Autumn Conference will be opened by its new Chief Executive, Fran Barnes. Who is she? We interview the former BBC editor and Director of NFU communications.
Fran Barnes joined the HTA eight months ago as chief executive, heading up all operations. For the last 11 years, she was Director of communications with the NFU, leading, managing, and creating effective campaigning strategies. Prior to that, she edited BBC Radio 4 programmes such as: Farming Today, The Food Programme, On Your Farm, Costing the Earth, BBC Food and Farming Awards.
Determined Government should listen
Fran is passionate about whatever she does and is determined that the HTA is an effective voice within Whitehall, in the media and with consumers. Government targets for the environment, health and wellbeing cannot be achieved without engaging with the Environmental Horticulture industry. This label has become more appropriate for the sector, she feels, than Ornamental Horticulture.
Peat has been a big issue in her first eight months. The HTA has gone big on evidence gathering to show the economic and environmental cost of DEFRA’s, as yet unconfirmed, intention to bring forward to 2026 the date when plants grown in the UK must be peat-free. Fran says some businesses are well on the journey to peat-free growing, but for others, the earlier date would be catastrophic.
That is why she took the unprecedented step of the HTA taking legal action against DEFRA to seek clarity.
Growers cannot plan their business without knowing how long they have to perfect techniques for growing in peat alternatives. The government’s response is to carry out their own impact assessment. The result is expected this autumn. She is determined that the government should listen to the industry when framing legislation and ensure decisions are evidence-based and support businesses rather than act against them.
To be even more effective as a lobbying organisation, Fran says the HTA must grow a more engaged membership. That means having even more members who are proud of being part of the HTA.
She is particularly pleased with the level of engagement from members who have been involved in contacting either the government or their MP on a number of issues, including real issues surrounding trade and imports. An unprecedented number of member businesses, supported by a bigger HTA public affairs team, have written to MPs raising their concerns or inviting them out to see their business – including the opportunities and challenges – first-hand.
She is equally passionate that the HTA helps its members achieve the best they can with their own businesses. She has already visited a number of companies: growers, growing media manufacturers and retailers, to understand the challenges they face, especially from the clutch of new laws heading our way.
Building member engagement
The new chief executive is still pulling together her plans to boost member engagement. Online ‘Townhalls’ on various issues have been well attended and will continue. She also believes in reviving regional and even county-level face-to-face knowledge transfer or networking events. We are also likely to see a return of national day conferences for specific topics.
Fran Barnes will open the HTA Autumn Conference in Birmingham in October, a conference which she is determined to grow in size and profile in the coming years to ensure horticulture has the profile and impact the sector deserves.
She is passionate, she is a campaigner, and she is articulate. Can she build media and consumer recognition of horticulture as an environmental business that, with the backing of the government and an engaged membership, can deliver important environmental and lifestyle wins?