Growers fear for future as rising costs and workforce shortages impact horticulture sector, NFU warns
Soaring energy costs, combined with a continued lack of people to pick crops, are posing a serious threat to the future of the UK’s fruit and vegetable industry, the NFU said today (15 November), reiterating the need for access to affordable energy and a skilled and secure workforce.
A new report, prepared by Promar International, has found that growers’ cost of production has increased by as much as 27% in the past 12 months, with products such as tomatoes, broccoli, apples and root vegetables most affected. The main drivers being energy (up 165%), fertiliser (up 40%) and workforce costs (up 13%).
The report also warns that despite food inflation at record highs, growers are not achieving the returns needed to run sustainable, profitable businesses, with additional further concerns on future energy prices following the end of the government’s six-month price cap. This means the situation could yet get worse for British growers.
NFU horticulture and potatoes board chair Martin Emmett said: “The UK horticulture sector is ambitious, innovative, and strives to be the best in the world, producing iconic products like strawberries, apples, and asparagus. Despite challenging political and supply chain pressures, it has long held an ambition for growth, matched with government’s ambition for UK horticulture as set out in its National Food Strategy.
“But the viability of producing fruit and vegetables is under the greatest strain I’ve ever seen. A continued lack of a reliable workforce, both in permanent and seasonal roles, combined with sharply rising input costs, particularly for energy, has put many businesses on a knife edge. Producers of high energy crops in particular, such as top fruit, root vegetables and crops grown under glasshouses, have severe doubts about their business viability.”
Growers are doing everything they can to mitigate the impacts, but they cannot do it alone, Emmett added. If this pressure continues, it will be simply unsustainable for some businesses to continue as they are.
“We have been in contact with the Groceries Code Adjudicator to ensure that he is aware of the pressures growers are under and alert him to the unfair buying tactics and practices many of our members face during discussions with retailers,” he said. ”It’s critical that UK businesses are able to have constructive dialogue with their customers about the pressures they are facing.
“To safeguard the future of British fruit and vegetables, we need sustainable farm gate prices, a commitment from government to lift the cap on the seasonal worker scheme and increase the number of visas available to meet the sector’s needs, and for government to recognise agriculture and horticulture as a vulnerable sector in regard to energy security.”