Poor supply-chain practices and short-term contracts with growers mean some of Britain’s best-loved fruit and vegetables have become endangered, according to the NFU.
A report by the union says British tomatoes, cucumbers and spring onions are at risk due to a significant drop in self-sufficiency over the past decade.
Brussels sprouts, lettuce, leeks and cauliflowers are also under threat due to a steady decline in production and consumption in the past 10 years.
Published on 13 July the Catalyst for Change report says millions of pounds have been stripped from the fresh produce sector thanks to aggressive retail promotions, a lack of grower confidence and a culture which places all of the risk on producers.
Calling on retailers to find better ways of doing business with processors, the NFU said urgent and immediate action was needed to help the horticulture sector – worth £3bn to the UK economy – be profitable, competitive and able to meet consumer demands.
Outlining the need for a more collaborative approach to pricing and promotions, the union invited retailers, packers and processors to sign up to its “Fruit and Veg Pledge”.
The charter, which sets out a promise by growers to produce high-quality, traceable and innovative fruit and vegetables as efficiently as possibly, asks the rest of the supply chain to treat suppliers fairly and offer greater price certainty.
It also asks retailers to commit to buying British fruit and veg where possible, pay producers on time and commit to buying a proportion of a producer’s crop when a production programme is agreed.
Meurig Raymond, NFU deputy president, said unless damaging practices in the sector were halted, huge swathes of British horticultural production would be lost.
“This is not about growers versus retailers,” he said. “Unless action is taken now we could see less home-grown fruit and vegetables on supermarket shelves.
“This will mean more imported produce, less choice and ultimately higher food prices due to a lack of investment on farm.”