james hallett

James Hallett, BGA chief executive

British Growers Association (BGA) chairman James Hallett says the fresh produce industry must push on to secure its 'fair share' of public sector R&D investment.

Speaking at the eastern region launch of the government's £160 million agri-tech strategy at G's Fresh in Ely, Cambridgeshire, Hallett said it was time to close the gap for growers and reduce the UK's reliance on fruit and vegetable imports.

He said: 'The£3.7 billion UK fresh produce sector accounts for 22 per cent of farmgate sales by value, yet historically has attracted less than 10 per cent of the public sector research pot. Pro-rata, the horticulture sector should be attracting over £100m of taxpayer investment in research, not the £20-40m it currently receives.

“From field vegetables, potatoes and fruit to salad and protected crops, horticulture is a high-value sector of the rural economy, accounting for just four per cent of the farmed area yet with enormous opportunity – through investment in innovation – to expand production, create new jobs on top of the 100,000 already employed within the sector, and displace up to £2bn of the £4bn UK trade gap in fresh produce.'

Hallett hopes that the government's latest investment in agricultural technology will go a long way in boosting the efficiency of growers and levels of home-grown production.

The eastern launch of the strategy was hosted by George Freeman MP, the government’s life sciences adviser, who explained that the government is planning to unlock new opportunities for technology-based exports within agriculture.

He said: “Modern farming is about reducing impact and maximising yield, and the UK horticulture sector has the potential to become a world-class hub of research, innovation, high-growth companies and new career opportunities. Breakthroughs in genetic science, IT, remote sensing, precision farming, agricultural engineering and modern food supply chains are driving an exciting new ‘agri-tech’ sector, with new opportunities for economic growth and technology-based exports.'