“Fresh produce is the sector of primary food production where growth most squarely aligns with the national interest”
(National Food Strategy1)
Growing British – backing a 30% increase in UK production of fresh fruit and vegetables by 2032 - would add an extra £0.5 billion in direct GDP contributions to the UK economy per year. Over the same period the growing industries will be transitioning to net zero carbon. The UK’s fresh produce sector is dynamic and competitive. A sustainable portfolio of strategic support is needed if the UK fresh produce industry is to continue to thrive and grow. This strategy green paper charts how economic, environmental, and nutritional benefits can be realised if this vibrant farming sector is encouraged in the UK.
In the UK, we produce some of the best fresh produce in the world. Yet fruit and vegetables remain our largest trade gap in the food sector with an export value of £0.85 billion compared with an import value of £10.46 billion, giving a trade gap of £9.61 billion in 2021. Although imports will always be an important part of supply due to our relatively short growing season and consumer desires for exotic produce, this stark imbalance in trade is an indication of our heavy reliance on other countries for the supply of fruit and vegetables.
This vulnerability is recognised in the UK Food Security Report 20212. For example, since 1988, our home production supply of vegetables has dropped from 82.7% to 55.6% and for fruit it is just 16.3%3. As diets shift and climate vulnerable countries increasingly struggle with food production, there is abundant scope for increasing production and resilience in the domestic fresh produce sector whilst helping the government respond to the targets set out in the National Food Strategy1 and deliver on its commitments to levelling up the United Kingdom and building back greener4. “Growing British” identifies many opportunities which should be built into a national strategy for horticulture5.
- Increasing domestic production to substitute for fresh produce imports.
- Facilitating investment by improving access to business improvement funds, thereby promoting productivity gains through the adoption of new technologies including automation and robotics, and improvements in infrastructure for small scale producers.
- Expanding the sector’s capacity to meet the growing alternative protein market.
- Ensuring growers can achieve sustainable margins and receive a fairer share of their produce value by addressing pressures from retailers, empowering the Groceries Code Adjudicator and facilitating shorter supply chains.
- Increasing the capacity of the seasonal worker scheme to ensure no crops go unharvested.
- Attracting new entrants by fostering an environment for entrepreneurs and those looking to develop skills in commercial horticulture.
- Using the industry to upskill rural and peri-urban communities to provide jobs that can be meaningful and diverse.
- Improving biosecurity and maximising Integrated Pest Management as a strategy for environmentally friendly pest control whilst retaining a core ability to rapidly respond to pest and disease threats.
- Creating a unified voice that represents the industry’s best interests with a coherent, joined up R&I funding pipeline to link grower experience with discovery science.
- National Food Strategy: Independent Review. Dimbleby, 2021.
- United Kingdom Food Security Report 2021.
- Horticulture Statistics 2021, Defra.
- The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution
- Government Food Strategy, 2022.
This draft green paper has been produced by Warwick Crop Centre (Alex Kelly, Prof Richard Napier, Prof Rosemary Collier), with comments and input from Dr Debbie Rees (Natural Resources Unit, University of Greenwich), Lee Abbey (NFU), Dr Amber Wheeler (Fruit and Vegetable Alliance), Rebecca Laughton (LWA), Dr Bill Parker (AHDB), Jack Ward (CEO, British Growers), Tess Howe (TIAH) and members of the Fresh Produce R&I Forum* . Thijs van Rens and Andrea Guerrieri d’Amati advised/ commented on the economic analysis (Department of Economics, University of Warwick).
* Membership: University of Warwick Crop Centre (Chairs); FERA, NIAB-EMR and NIAB; ADAS Horticulture; Stockbridge Technology Centre; University of Reading; Harper Adams University; Royal Agricultural University; JHI; University of Lincoln and Lincoln Institute for Agri-Food Technology; Cranfield University; University of Greenwich; University of Newcastle; PGRO.