Business income figures for 2011 show soft fruit the only winners

Updated figures from Defra have confirmed the diverging fortunes of England's fruit and vegetable growers.

The latest Farm Business Survey, which covers the 12 months from March 2011 to February 2012, showed a marked range in "farm business income" - effectively, net profit - from different categories of fresh produce (see box). Soft fruit was the only category to increase during 2011 over 2010.

The survey report comments: "The fall in output in field-scale vegetables was caused by many crops being affected by the extremely cold weather; whereas the cold was beneficial for softand top-fruit growers, causing excellent bud formation and increased yields."

In contrast to the year just passed, 2011 saw below-average rainfall in England of 645mm, compared to the seven-year average of 825mm, and also saw the warmest spring in 100 years.Total horticultural farm output fell by three per cent over the period, but this was more than offset by a fall in costs of six per cent. In contrast to sharp increases in fertiliser prices in 2010-11, these were relatively stable in 2011-12.

Horticulture growers saw an overall 15 per cent increase in average profit over 2010-11, in keeping with the rest of agriculture, though at £55,300 this remains below the industry average of £65,800.

With income from the Single Payment Scheme, agri-environment schemes and "diversified income" largely static since 2009, this represents a fivefold increase in the profits from farming since then. However, roughly one-in-seven horticultural businesses failed to make any profit at all, though this was an improvement on 2010-11, when the figure was closer to one-in-four.

Horticultural farms - Business performance

There was a wide range of fortunes in 2011-12 in average profits from
the diverse range of businesses categorised as "horticultural farms":

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