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State of UK Horticulture threatens the country’s food security

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Lack of investment and mismanagement by the Government has left the horticulture sector at the brink in a bad shape. Image: Getty, Justin Paget
Lack of investment and mismanagement by the Government has left the horticulture sector at the brink in a bad shape. Image: Getty, Justin Paget

Related tags Food security

A lack of investment and unappreciation of the UK’s horticulture industry has placed British growing at a crossroads and left holes in the UK’s food security, according to a new report from the House of Lords Horticultural Sector Committee.

The report, Sowing the seeds: A blooming English horticultural sector,​ warned the sector was at a crossroads at the mercy of a lack of cross-departmental working, poor ministerial oversight and the lack of a dedicated horticultural strategy.

Other challenges included a lack of long-term funding for research and development, a long-term skills and education gap, poor communication of regulations and spiralling input costs made worse by ‘relentless competition between supermarkets to keep prices low’.

“If these challenges remain unaddressed, the future of UK horticulture looks bleak,”​ read the report. “We could see a breakdown in UK food security, and a failure to tackle urgent environmental challenges.

“Yet, with the right support, policies and funding, the UK horticultural sector can become a world leader in the sustainable practices and policies that will ensure generations to come can enjoy the full variety of produce grown in Britain.”

‘Put horticulture on the curriculum'

Peers called for the Government to ‘put horticulture on the curriculum' and to produce a workforce strategy, to address seasonal labour uncertainties and to urgently conduct and publish the promised review of fairness in horticulture supply chains.

Lord Redesdale, chair of the Horticultural Sector Committee, said: “Horticulture is a multi-billion-pound industry employing over 50,000 people, but it is too frequently overlooked by policymakers.

“Our report calls on the Government to publish the ‘world leading’ Horticulture Strategy it promised over a year ago and get on with its review of fairness in the horticulture supply chain.

“As part of this, it must secure the skills pipeline by boosting the place of horticulture on the curriculum, draw up a clear workforce strategy, and urgently address reports of exploitation linked to the seasonal worker visa. With the confidence and support of Government, the horticulture sector can realise its limitless potential.”

Responding to the Government’s findings, National Farmers Union (NFU) Horticulture and Potatoes Board chair Martin Emmett urged ministers to respond quickly and thoroughly to the report, as well as several others affecting horticulture that are still awaiting responses.

Ambition for growth

“While soaring costs and supply chain challenges are significantly impacting confidence within the sector, British growers have an ambition for growth. But we cannot do it without government support,” ​he added. “The government’s own food strategy, published in 2022, implies it shares this ambition, but we must see this backed up with tangible actions.”

The Government’s food strategy promised to deliver a long-term strategy for the sector and highlighted the many benefits of increasing UK fruit and vegetable production for both food security and the health of the nation.

However, Emmett said there continued to be a contradiction in the sector due to soaring coasts, rather than Government action that would give growers the confidence to invest and boost production.

“British shoppers want more home-grown produce and plants, and we could grow more if we had the right political and supply chain policies in place,”​ Emmett concluded. “The Government needs to show that it champions this vision and set out its plan for overcoming the many barriers that are holding UK horticulture back.”

Meanwhile, food firms are making ‘more promises than progress’ on regenerative agriculture​and a lack of clear definition has made it had for businesses to substantiate their claims, according to new research.

Related topics Supply Chain Fresh produce

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