Road to nowhere: government’s horticulture ‘blueprint’ lacks joined-up action

On 14 May, over 70 food and farming businesses convened at Number 10, to discuss the future of national food security at the annual Farm to Fork Summit. The main focus: horticulture – and the unveiling of an 80 million ‘blueprint’ to boost the fruit and veg sector in the UK.

AI/Canva generated image by Mara Galeano Carraro on the 22nd May 2024

Written by Emine Rushton for Wicked Leeks

The statistics are grim. The Food Security Index 2024 found that just 17 per cent of fruit and 55 per cent of vegetables consumed in the UK are grown here. Meanwhile The Guardian reports that the UK’s self-sufficiency could fall by eight per cent this year. 

Dr Charlie Taverner, Farming Futures Policy Lead at the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, is justly cynical. “We shouldn’t mistake this blueprint for a bold, ambitious strategy. It’s good that the government has identified the glaring, horticulture-shaped gap in the UK’s food security and committed to extra funding. But that needs to come with long-term commitments, specific targets for increasing home-grown production, and joined-up action across the food system. In particular, politicians need to stop the unfair supply chain practices that are crippling growers’ confidence and use all the levers at their disposal to build public demand for accessible, affordable fruit and veg. This should be a win-win for farmers, the economy and health.”

A statement from NFU President, Tom Bradshaw, said “We are pleased that the government has taken on board our calls for a bigger and more accessible replacement for the EU Fruit and Veg Aid Scheme, and a commitment to legislate to improve contractual relationships. But we cannot forget that our members have experienced the wettest eighteen months since 1836, including devastating flooding, and many are facing an acute short-term crisis.

Politicians need to stop the unfair supply chain practices that are crippling growers’ confidence and use all the levers at their disposal to build public demand for accessible, affordable fruit and vegDr Charlie Taverner, Farming Futures Policy Lead at the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission

“The NFU’s recent confidence survey revealed just how tough it is out there currently – the reality is that some farmers and growers believe they may not survive long enough to benefit from today’s announcements.. today was more about the strategic long-term plan, it’s not about putting the building blocks in place that rebuild that confidence immediately.”

The latter, of course, is precisely what farmers need, and now.

“Half of Britain’s fruit and veg growers say that their businesses are in peril from pitifully low farmgate prices, labour shortages, unfair trading by supermarkets and the extreme weather experienced over recent years,” agrees Kath Dalmeny, Sustain’s Chief Executive.

It’s welcome news that the Government has offered some financial and policy support for the fruit and veg industry, but it doesn’t come close to the Horticulture Strategy or National Food Strategy that the Government ditched last year. True food security is built on respect and fair trading for farmers, production of food that supports affordable healthy diets, and care for the health of soil, pollinators and a stable climate that make growing food possible,” says Dalmeny.

Soil Association Certification Chief Executive Dominic Robinson also believes that “climate change and the loss of biodiversity are the biggest threats to food security, and farmers are already seeing how catastrophic drought and flooding can be for their crops, land and animals. If we want to truly secure our food supply, we need more nature-friendly and organic farming that works in harmony with wildlife. It’s clear the status quo of intensive farming is not achieving food security.

Today we urged ministers to help more people to eat well with more, long-term support for farmers to shift to resilient practices that protect soils and don’t rely on harmful synthetic pesticides and fertilisers. By shifting to healthy and sustainable diets – with more fruit and veg and less meat produced to better standards – studies suggest that farming with organic principles can feed our population and slash farming emissions,” says Robinson.

He also adds: “Supply chain action can’t all be on government. If we want food to be grown here, we need to ensure the risks are shared through the supply chain. Supermarkets and large food manufacturers need to do more to help farmers transition.”

And while Vicki Hird, Agriculture Lead at the Wildlife Trusts, says “there is much to welcome in the slew of announcements made at the Summit and new supply chain regulation and adjudicator, to deliver a fair dealing for edible horticulture are good to see,” she’s also quick to point out that “the Government’s own Food Security Report in 2021 identified climate change and biodiversity loss as the greatest threats to UK food security, but in the new index launched today there are no indicators on climate, for soil health, pollinator populations, or water availability.

There is also no mention of how our lowland peat soils – essential stores of carbon – are to be managed sustainably. Given much of our vegetables are grown on peat soils, we need a plan fast to protect the peat and protect supplies,” Hird concludes.

Dominic Robinson agrees: “The government’s push to back British farmers is welcome, but they must now back British wildlife and healthy diets to deliver a sustainable, secure food system in the UK.”

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