Fruit and veg workers in a field © General Images/UIG/Rex Shutterstock

Supermarket price wars are pushing UK vegetable and fruit growers to cut production while imports have hit record levels, according to a report by the NFU Horticulture and Potato Board.

The value of UK field vegetable production plummeted 14% between 2010 and 2014 and outdoor vegetable growers shrank their cropped areas by 7,000ha (2012-13).

In comparison, the volume of imported fruit and vegetables to the UK hit a record 5.8m tonnes in 2014 – an increase of 664,000t in just four years and enough to fill 25,000 cargo ship crates.

While there had been progress in some retailer-supplier relationships since the establishment of the Groceries Code Adjudicator in April 2013, there was a feeling among growers that supermarkets had started to revert to bad habits in response to tough trading conditions, said the report.

Growers also faced low prices that made continued production unviable in some cases and pressure to shoulder the lion’s share of market risks.

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“Growers describe the current trading environment as a battlefield, and they’re on the weaker side,” the report stated.

The UK’s self-sufficiency in fruit now stands at just 11% and at 58% in vegetables – representing a trade deficit of £4.7bn.

“The supply chain faces a choice. Growers have the choice to grow less produce to manage their exposure to risk; retailers have the choice to do things differently”
Guy Poskitt, NFU

This could weaken the nation’s food security, as growing global demand for food would mean the UK had to compete with other countries to source enough food from abroad, the report added.

NFU horticulture board chairman Guy Poskitt said: “Growers are fearful that, under intense price pressure and competition for market share, retailers are regressing to short-term thinking.

“The supply chain faces a choice. Growers have the choice to grow less produce to manage their exposure to risk; retailers have the choice to do things differently.”

The NFU is pushing for more retailers to sign up to its Fruit and Veg Pledge – a charter of best practice to improve supplier-retailer relationships and balance the risk between parties.

So far, Aldi is the only retailer to have signed it.