A NEW REPORT from the inter-university Food Research Collaboration (FRC) shows the weak state of British fruit and vegetable production and urges policy-makers to give more attention to rebuilding UK horticulture.
According to the briefing paper, strengthening the sector would both reduce the food trade gap and benefit public health.
This is a practical issue which cuts across the current Brexit vs Bremain debate, according to Professor Tim Lang, of City University London, and FRC Research Fellow Dr Victoria Schoen.
The pair argue that horticulture ought to be central in the Government’s forthcoming 25- year food and farming plan, which is understood to commit to increasing food exports to pay for the huge £8 billion food import deficit.
In a statement on the report’s release, Co-authors Professor Lang and Dr Schoen said; “We worry that government strategy looks a bit like allowing Europe to feed the UK with good healthy produce – fruit and veg – while our food industry exports less desirable elements – alcohol and overprocessed, sugary, fatty foods.
“Actually, horticulture offers something relatively simple to improve matters. Grow more here, but make it sustainable production only.”
The report, Horticulture in the UK: potential for meeting dietary guideline demands, paints a sober picture of a mismatch between supply and demand in the UK, particularly in light of public health advice to eat more fruit and vegetables. Drawing on official and unpublished data, the report shows that there has been a big decline in the area given to UK horticultural production.
From 1985 to 2014, there has been a decline of 27% for fruit and vegetables combined. The area growing vegetables has declined by 26% and the area growing fruit by 35%. Fruit and vegetables are by far the greatest source of imports in the UK food system. The trade gap in horticulture has risen to £7.8 billion a year, about 37% of the UK’s total food trade gap of £21 billion in 2014.
Although some growers have extensive growing operations in Southern Europe and further afield, this makes sense for them as commercial enterprises but still does not resolve the serious lack of UK horticultural output.
Some imports (e.g. pineapples, avocados) cannot currently be grown in the UK but others which could be UK grown (e.g. brassicas, mushrooms, lettuce, apples, pears) have seen serious drops in production.
The proportion of the adult population (over 16 years) in the UK consuming five or more portions of fruit and vegetables per day peaked in 2006 at 28% of males and 32% of females.
Only 9% of 11-15 year olds achieved an intake of five-a-day or more in the period 2008/09-2011/12, and only 14% of 16-24 year olds.
The Consumer Price Index for food items as a whole has shown a significant increase of 35% in 2007-2013. Within this, the price of vegetables has increased by 27% and fresh fruit by 26%, less than the average for the food sector as a whole.
The researchers noted that horticulture holdings are unevenly distributed across the country, which they said is partly for climatic reasons, but pointed out that areas which used to have sizeable sectors (e.g. the South West) have seen a heavy decline.
They said a ‘re-boot’ of regional strategies is overdue a review of planning and financial regulations and improve resilience in food and farming.
Currently, only 3.5% of the UK’s croppable land is used for horticulture (and only 2% of the farmed area in England), but this land produces £3.7 billion worth of produce and employs 12% of the agricultural labour force and at least 35% of the UK’s casual farm labour force.
The paper’s authors made a number of recommendations for the government, which is set to bring out its 25 year food and farming plan in the spring. They urged the government to apply a ‘health lens’ to its proposed focus on ‘Brand Britain’ and to work with industry and regional groups to give policy and financial support for horticulture.
This funding should include public health and environmental analysis to look at narrowing the gap between supply and demand for home grown fruit and veg, the authors said, as well as funding more research into sustainable production methods.
Professor Tim Lang, Director of the Centre for Food Policy at City University London, and Chair of the FRC, commented on Thursday: “At a time when some politicians are urging the UK to vote to leave the EU, it is somewhat alarming to note the poor state of UK self-reliance in horticulture.
“This ought to be the ‘good news’ in food and health. Why is the country producing lots of sugar but not enough fruit and veg?
“We have been genuinely shocked by the mismatch of UK supply and demand in horticulture. Our report points out some weak links in the chain: low wages, reliance on migrant labour, a suspicion of low returns to growers, a waste of land and resources.
“These factors should receive more attention from academics and civil society. And politicians need to look very carefully at the sector. Dairy farmers have been understandably ‘noisy’ about being squeezed by rising costs and powerful supermarkets.
The public needs to be more aware of a not dissimilar situation in fruit and veg. “The public says it wants to eat British. Chefs encourage it. But the Government isn’t listening. Its message is more about exports than about growing more here. We think this risky.”
Dr Victoria Schoen, Research Fellow for the FRC, said: “We frequently hear the five-a-day message – many of us can see the reasoning for this. Why is it then that so few of us take any notice? What would happen to our supermarket fresh produce shelves if we did?
“We are eating slightly less fruit and veg per person than we did ten years ago but this is increasingly fruit and veg that are not grown here.
“It is time policy-makers considered the reasons for this and whether anything can be done to encourage consumption, and production, of British produce.
“British horticulture has contracted partly because of lack of demand for the things we grow here. A more thorough examination of the food systems in place is required to understand why products that should be more expensive – those that are highly processed – are often in greater demand than those that come to us in the fresh-from-the field state.”
Local farmer sentenced for animal welfare offences
ON JULY 10, Dylan Williams of Neuaddlwyd Uchaf, Neuaddlwyd, Ciliau Aeron appeared before magistrates at Aberystwyth Justice Centre and was sentenced for animal by-products and animal welfare offences.
Mr Williams, 47, had previously appeared at the Aberystwyth Magistrates Court where he entered pleas of guilty to the four offences brought before the court by Ceredigion County Council.
On 11 April 2018, 47 sheep carcasses in various states of decomposition were found on Mr Williams’ land, and these were accessible to live sheep and their young lambs. This formed the basis of the offence brought under The Animal By-Products Regulations which requires carcasses to be disposed of without undue delay, due to the risk to animal and public health.
The majority of the flock inspected on the day were seen with severe wool loss and irritated skin which are signs of sheep scab. Sheep scab is a debilitating condition which can lead to weight loss and thickened skin with scabs due to the intense, uncomfortable itching caused by the condition.
There were three separate offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, two of which were for causing unnecessary suffering to two ewes. One ewe was suffering from severe weakness due to scab infestation. Another ewe was found unconscious on the land with her intestines protruding from her flank, likely due to predation as she had also suffered from scab over a prolonged period.
Another offence related to Mr Williams’ failure to ensure the welfare needs of his flock were met by his failure to properly inspect the flock and to manage and treat the sheep scab effectively.
Magistrates sentenced Mr Williams to a community order with a requirement that he carried out 250 hours of unpaid work in the community, he was also ordered to pay the investigation and legal costs of the council which amounted to £1648.
Alun Williams, Ceredigion County Council’s Corporate Lead Officer with responsibility for Policy and Performance said, “The council is deeply saddened that yet another serious animal health offence has been committed within the county. It is to the credit of our staff that they have undertaken a successful prosecution of this case.
Our animal welfare officers and our legal team had no option but to carry the prosecution due to the seriousness of the offences committed. I would urge individual farmers who are facing difficulties in caring for their stock to seek advice from the County Council and the Farming Unions.”
Aeron Valley farmers thinking creatively for their future
A RESEARCH STUDY called Pweru’r Dyffryn delivered by Gweithgor Dyffryn Aeron cyf is looking into the feasibility of powering businesses and households in the Aeron Valley.
The study is looking into creating a community body to develop local renewable energy sources which would aim to create a source of income for powering the economy of mid Ceredigion. The study is also looking into creating a sustainable source of income to develop the local economy of the Aeron Valley.
The feasibility study is funded through Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020. This is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.
The concept of Pweru’r Dyffryn (Powering the Valley) was developed by the Gweithgor Dyffryn Aeron cyf. Many members of the Gweithgor are young farmers in the area. They want to not only secure a way of life and affordable energy, but also invest in their future.
The farmers of Dyffryn Aeron first set up the community cooperative company Gweithgor Dyffryn Aeron cyf in response to the closure of dairy factories in the valley. The Gweithgor helped a local company to re-open the site of one factory as a centre of local employment.
Through this they found that energy costs were high in the area and could threaten the long term sustainability of businesses in the area.
Euros Lewis is a Director of Gweithgor Dyffryn Aeron cyf and is Pweru’r Dyffryn’s Project Manager. He said: “Responding creatively is the way forward and that’s what these young farmers have done.”
From here the concept of Pweru’r Dyffryn was developed, which began with local consultations across the whole of the Aeron Valley. It asked local communities what form of renewable energy they did and didn’t want to see developed in the area and how would they want revenue from any potential scheme to be spent. The purpose of the consultations were to develop a model that will meet the needs and potential of the local communities first and foremost.
The feasibility scheme received LEADER support through the Cynnal y Cardi Local Action Group, which is administered by Ceredigion County Council.
The next step for Gweithgor Dyffryn Aeron cyf is the publication of a comprehensive report of the local consultation and its findings for future potential developments. The consultation’s early findings include that large scale wind turbines would not be welcome, while there is support for further research as to the potential of waterways and solar power for the generation of local, sustainable energy.
The development of the scheme will be long-term with challenges along the way but Euros Lewis believes to change the lives of the local people and to develop the local economy ‘that the basic principle is to act for ourselves and this is what we are doing.’
Councillor Rhodri Evans is Ceredigion County Council’s Cabinet member with responsibility for Economy and Regeneration. He said: “It’s very encouraging to see rural society in Ceredigion ambitiously looking to the future. Cynnal y Cardi supports them closely and I’m sure they wil see success in the future.”
All ideas are welcome on a rolling basis and project officers are at hand to assist you. The closing dates in 2019 for submission of expressions of interest are 9 September and 11 November. All submissions are welcome in Welsh or English.
Farming faces zero carbon challenge
AN AMBITIOUS new target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 will lead to significant changes in farming practices over the coming decades, according to a leading agri-environment specialist.
Professor Iain Donnison, Head of the Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University, was responding to the publication of ‘Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming’ published by the UK Government Committee on Climate Change.
Professor Donnison is an expert on agriculture and land use, which feature in the report in terms of targets for one-fifth of agricultural land to be used for forestry, bioenergy crops and peatland restoration.
According to Professor Donnison, such a reduction is very ambitious but achievable in Wales and the wider UK. “Land use can positively contribute towards achieving the net zero targets, but there are challenges in relation to emissions from agriculture especially associated with red meat and dairy,” said Professor Donnison.
“In IBERS we are already working on how to make livestock agriculture less carbon intensive and developing new diversification options for the farming of carbon. For example, net zero targets could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”
Professor Donnison added: “The report gives a clear message regarding the importance of the task and the role that the UK can play to compensate for past emissions and to help play a leadership role in creating a greener future.
“The report says it seeks to be based on current technologies that can be deployed and achievable targets. One-fifth of agricultural land is a very ambitious target but I believe that through the approaches proposed it is achievable (e.g. for bioenergy crops it fits in with published targets for the UK). This is based on the knowledge and technologies we have now regarding how to do this, and because right now in the UK we are developing a new agricultural policy that looks beyond the common agriculture policy (CAP). For example, the 25-year Environment plan published by Defra envisages payment for public goods which could provide a policy mechanism to help ensure that the appropriate approaches are implemented in the appropriate places.
“The scale of the change, however, should not be underestimated, although agriculture is a sector that has previously successfully responded to challenges such as for increased food production. The additional challenge will be to ensure that we deliver all the benefits we wish to see from land: food, carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) management and wider environmental benefits, whilst managing the challenge of the impacts of climate change.
“The link is made between healthy diets with less red meat consumption and future reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. This reflects that agriculture will likely go through significant change over the coming decades as a result of changes in consumer diets.
“Net Zero targets, however, could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”
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