UK must double fruit and veg production - or face “bleak” future

UK must double fruit and veg production and consumption

The Soil Association is calling for the government to double UK fruit and veg production and consumption through nature-friendly farming after the House of Lords dubbed the future of the horticulture sector as “bleak”.

The warning was issued in a report published yesterday (Monday 6 November) by the cross-party House of Lords Horticultural Sector Committee. 

The 'Sowing the Seeds: A Blooming English Horticultural Sector' report found that horticulture, a £5 billion industry that employs over 50,000 people, is under-prioritised by policymakers, leaving the UK's food security vulnerable.

It marks the conclusion of an inquiry by committee, which was set up to consider the challenges, opportunities and risks faced by the horticultural sector, including the impact of climate change on productivity and food supply.

Earlier this year the Soil Association appeared in parliament and submitted written evidence to the inquiry to call for an overhaul of the UK food system.

With imports providing more than 80% of our fruit and almost half of our vegetables, we want to see a dramatic increase in fruit and veg produced here in Britain through nature-friendly, agroecological farming practices, including organic.

Advice from the Soil Association for more research into sustainable farming practices was also included in the report.

Calling for a “cross-departmental horticulture strategy”, the report said: “The Soil Association called for better research and innovation funding to support a transition to more sustainable farming practices, including using fewer chemicals. The Soil Association’s Ben Raskin told us that ‘far too much of our R&D budget goes into high-tech robotic solutions… and not enough into enabling farmers to do more on the ground’.”

How can the government help farmers?

Responding to the committee's report, Soil Association Head of Farming Policy Gareth Morgan said: “The declaration by the House of Lords that the future of horticulture looks ‘bleak’ is concerning but not a shock given the struggles our farmers and growers are facing. Fruit and veg are not being prioritised enough in farming or diet-related government policy. Ministers must listen to the warnings from the lords and from all of us who contributed to this inquiry.

“Too few people can access healthy food, and rising fuel and electricity costs, labour shortages and low profits mean many growers are considering throwing in the towel. But these problems are solvable - government urgently needs to get the promised horticulture strategy back off the scrap heap.

“We want to see UK fruit and veg production and consumption doubled – through agroecological, nature-friendly methods – to support British growers and healthy diets.”

The Soil Association is calling for manifesto commitments from all political parties to:

  • Double investment in nature-friendly farming across the UK – making sustainable farming more widespread and profitable by delivering economies of scale.

  • Produce an ambitious horticulture strategy whilst supporting British fruit and vegetable production and consumption.

  • Double British fruit and vegetable production and consumption to support healthy diets, through nature-friendly farming like organic.

  • Ensure that at least half of food in schools and hospitals is British, local, and sustainable, including organic, and improve the quality of the school fruit and veg scheme.

  • Ensure food retail pricing – from farm gate to supermarket shelf – that provides a fair return for farmers.

  • Intervene in supply chains so that retailers take greater responsibility and provide contracts that incentivise farmers who look after the environment across their entire farms and business, accounting for impacts on wildlife and soil as well as carbon.

  • Invest in local food partnerships that work to tackle food insecurity, supply chain disruption and inequity, and the climate and nature emergency, following the example of Sustainable Food Places.

  • And more: Soil Association Manifesto