It has been an uncertain time for British fruit and veg farmers recently, what with labour shortages, a fall in the value of the pound and the prospect of post-Brexit tariffs looming.
Predictions that we would start to see food rotting in fields are already proving true, as EU workers, who account for 90% of fruit and veg pickers used by seasonal businesses, are put off from coming here by poor exchange rates and a lack of clarity over whether they will be welcome and able to work in this country in the longer-term.
Failure to sell a season’s harvest could mean the end for some smaller farms that are already struggling, with low profit margins and with the fight to remain competitive against imports and larger farms.
This will start to affect diets and our nation’s health, if we don’t take proactive action to address it.
New analysis by the Food Foundation shows that a British family of four could be spending up to £158 more on fruit and veg per year after Brexit as a result of tariffs, inflation and increased labour costs. This is a huge amount of money for those already struggling to put nutritious food on the table. 92% of teenagers in the UK already miss out on their five-a-day, and diets low in veg are linked to 20,000 premature deaths every year. If the price of fruit and veg increases, and demand falls, farms could take a further hit from which it would be very hard to recover.
What we need is for the new Agriculture Bill – now not expected till the second half of 2018, but with a White Paper preceding it - to build in resilience to these real and urgent issues facing British horticulture. We need to ensure British agriculture not only protects the environment but also helps us get healthier – helping the NHS too.
The Government also needs to consider what action is can take now, rather than waiting for the Bill, as the horticulture sector is already starting to suffer from the ‘Brexit Effect’.
If we increase the level of UK self-sufficiency in fruit and veg, production could become more competitive in comparison to pricier imports. According to the Food Foundation’s research there are 16 types of fruit and veg that we could and should be growing more of in the UK, which would increase supply and help protect demand in these uncertain times.
It’s time to seize the moment and create a thriving, robust horticulture sector that is more self-sufficient, and supports our farmers and our health.