Grower association appoints new board to push government on sustainable action to secure future for British berries

British Berry Growers, the industry body representing 95 per cent of the UK’s commercial soft fruit growers, has announced the formation of a campaign and policy board to advocate for the industry’s pressing needs. 

Nick Marston

Nick Marston, British Berry Growers chairman

The board is chaired by Anthea McIntyre CBE, a former member of European Parliament where she served on the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, specialising in horticulture and authoring several reports.  

On the board is a selection of major berry growers from across the UK: Tim Barnes (Dole), Tim Chambers (WB Chambers), John Chinn (Cobrey Farms), Angus Davison (Berry Gardens Growers Ltd), Jim Floor (Hall Hunter), Peter Judge (S&A Group), and Lochy Porter (Angus Soft Fruits).

A recent independent study by consultancy Andersons Midlands found that two-thirds (68 per cent) of British berry growers are not confident in the future of their businesses – with a further 68 per cent saying they plan to scale their future investment plans as a result. Just four per cent say they plan to invest more, according to the survey.

The reasons cited for the lack of confidence and future investment plans included rising input costs, lack of certainty around long-term labour supply, a lack of government support for research and development and competition from abroad.  

The new British Berry Growers board aims to address these issues by working with ministers, government departments, and other major stakeholders to develop a long-term strategy for the sustainable future of the British berry industry—thereby providing both security for British growers and ensuring growth in a substantial sector of the rural economy. 

British Berry Growers has already made contributions on behalf of the industry to the House of Lords Horticultural Sector Committee’s November 2023 report, the EFRA inquiries on Fairness in the Food Supply Chain and UK Trade Policy: Food and Agriculture.  

The berry industry’s needs are outlined in its six-point policy plan, calling for action across the following key areas: 

1.      A seasonal worker visa scheme extension from six to nine months: calling for an extension of the current seasonal workers visa to nine months to better reflect the actual harvest season and for growers who hold a Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority licence to directly recruit and manage their own workforce.  

2.      Rural Payment Agency scheme extension: calling for an extension of the existing RPA scheme to ensure our growers get fair remuneration packages, filling the gaps in existing grant schemes.  

3.      A national planning framework for controlled growing environments: calling for a robust national planning framework to bring consistency to the consideration of planning applications across the country and to provide a guide to local authorities and planning professionals, enabling the rapid approval of compliant developments across UK farms.  

4.      A thriving British berry industry: to continue to raise awareness of the economic challenges faced by British growers up and down the country, and work with central government and retailers to implement a plan that guarantees long term security for British growers.  

5.      A better relationship with retailers: calling for improved relationships between retailers and growers. This will include a retail commitment to security of supply and deliver the growers’ commitment to effect programme deliveries.  

6.      A simpler way to export British berries overseas: calling for an agile and more responsive approval process for berry exports which will allow British growers to compete with their EU counterparts. We will work with DEFRA to devise an effective export system that works for all. 

Nick Marston, chairman of British Berry Growers, said: ”The value of UK berry production per year is an estimated £800 million at farm gate and accounts for approximately 33,000 jobs across the country. Securing its future is not just crucial for our growers—its continued success is an integral part of our nation’s economy and wellbeing.”  

Anthea McIntyre CBE, chair of British Berry Growers’ campaign and policy board, said: “Growers are struggling with low returns and ever-increasing costs, especially labour costs. We must act now to see continued success. The industry is currently on a knife edge, but with the support of government and policymakers we can secure a brighter future for British berries.”