Fresh calls for ‘horticultural revolution’ after landmark National Fruit Show

Minette Batters speaking at the National Fruit Show

NFU President Minette Batters called for action to unlock horticulture’s growth potential when she spoke at the National Fruit Show in Kent.

The show took place on Kent Showground from 1-2 November and has been hailed as a landmark celebration of the county’s fruit growers.

Minette outlined the NFU’s Horticultural Growth Strategy, in her keynote speech, warning that “if we cannot change the culture of retailers we will continue to lose horticultural production”.

“It has to change if we’re going to deliver on food security and have the horticultural revolution that we all know needs to happen.”

The strategy sets out the top ten policies which underpin the success of the sector, enabling long term growth and ensuring the fresh supply of produce on supermarket shelves.

These building blocks include sustainable energy supplies, access to skilled labour, productivity investment, supply chain fairness and a range of other critical support necessary to create growth in the sector.

‘The horticulture sector needs to grow on every level’

“With often less than 1% profit coming back to some businesses, surely that tells everyone of the challenges we face,” Minette continued.

“Defra has to show that food security is a priority. There is a lot to do to give the industry the confidence it needs to make these big investments, and not much time to do it.”

Minette said the government had to start by setting a food security target.

If we cannot change the culture of retailers we will continue to lose horticultural production.”

NFU President Minette Batters

She said it was unacceptable to set targets for house building, tree planting and green energy but not for domestic food production: “We need to ensure we have statutory underpinning of targets and that we start to take this industry seriously.

“It is so in our national interest to produce more of our food within these shores – the horticulture sector needs to grow on every level.”

During the show Minette was presented with the Jon Jones award in recognition of her services to the industry. Previous winner John Guest presented the award, along with Honorary Show chair and Chief Executive of City Harvest Sarah Calcutt.

‘Growers are not breaking even’

NFU Regional Policy Manager Charles Hesketh praised the National Fruit Show for showcasing the “excellent fruit farmers in this country doing some great work during a very challenging time for the industry”.

“Increased costs and a lack of fairness in the supply chain mean many growers are not breaking even,” he added, pointing to family fruit businesses going back for generations which have now had to cease production.

Looking to the future, Mr Hesketh added that there are reasons to be positive on the horizon: “There have been some great advancements in technology and we have robotic strawberry pickers and apple pickers now on the market. Grant funding is also becoming available and we are looking to see how it will be rolled out. But we need policy makers to take the challenges facing the industry seriously to give it a positive future and for the sake of the nation’s food security.”

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