The UK horticulture sector faces major structural issues that threaten its long-term viability, based on the findings of two new reports.
The sector faces issues on both the supply and demand side, according to the latest paper by the Food Research Collaboration, which highlights the dual threat posed by the UK’s growing trade gap in fruit and vegetables – currently standing at £7.8bn – alongside significant under-consumption of fruit and veg.
The report said there had been a 27% decline in the area given to UK horticultural production between 1985 and 2014, due in part to competition from Southern Europe and UK farmers switching to other crops, notably wheat for animal feed.
It also noted that the proportion of adults in the UK consuming five or more portions of fruit and vegetables each day stood at 26% in 2013 with only 16% of children hitting their 5-a-day target.
The NFU, meanwhile, has labelled the results of its 2015 End of Season Horticultural Survey, “very worrying” for the future of the sector, with inadequate seasonal labour sourcing being the main issue of concern.
The survey found that 29% of fruit and vegetables growers had experienced problems securing an adequate supply of seasonal workers in 2015, with 66% expecting the availability of labour to decrease by 2018, and 90% expressing concerns over the negative impact the introduction of the National Living Wage would have on their business.
The NFU is calling for the Government to introduced a seasonal labour scheme open to students from around the world to help fill the labour gap.