Figures show production horticulture faring well

Latest statistics released by Defra have portrayed a fairly positive overall picture of production horticulture across Great Britain, but with a few notable negatives.

The area of horticultural crops across the country increased by 7.5 per cent in 2015 - to 150,000ha - driven mainly by the 6.6 per cent increase in the area used to grow vegetables and salads, crops that account for 70 per cent of the total horticultural area. Within this, vining peas increased by 4.8 per cent to 28,000ha.

However, the area used for growing potatoes fell back by some 8.3 per cent to 96,000ha. Glasshouse horticulture also showed a marked decline, down by 5.6 per cent in area to 1,309ha, of which 159ha - or 12 per cent - was classed as "not in use" in June this year. Mushroom sheds showed a 27 per cent drop in area.

The total area being used for fruit production increased by 10 per cent this year compared to last, to 33,000ha. Orchards account for 24,000ha - or 72 per cent of this total - while cropping of "small fruit" covers 9,100 ha.

Wine grapes now account for one-fifth of this last figure, after a rise of nearly 30 per cent in area on last year, putting it behind only strawberries and blackcurrants in area. Raspberries were the only fruit category to fall back - by 14 per cent over the period. The price of vegetables and potatoes has risen broadly in tandem with the wider Consumer Price Index over the past eight years - at 23 per cent - but fruit has gone up 31 per cent and was the only food group not to fall in price over the year to June, rising by 1.4 per cent.

UK household purchases of fruit and vegetables were 1.1 per cent lower in 2013 than in 2012, a reduction of 9.7 per cent since their peak in 2006. It is estimated that just under four portions of fruit and vegetables were consumed per person per day - a figure that has remained broadly steady since 2009.

There has been a gradual pick-up in consumption in "lowest decile" households, though this still lags at 3.2 portions per day. Arguably of greater concern has been a drop in the proportion of children meeting the five-a-day target, from 21 per cent in 2009 to 17 per cent in 2013.

Defra estimates that 22 per cent of edible fruit and vegetables are wasted, and these predominated in the two million tonnes of food wasted in 2012, the most recent year for which figures are available, with "failure to use in time" being the main reason.

Overall, horticulture accounts for just three per cent, and potatoes two per cent, of the UK total croppable area, yet yields around £2bn in value, or around a fifth of the total value of agricultural output. But the UK supplied just 23 per cent of its food and vegetable needs in 2014, and fresh produce remains the sector with the highest trade deficit, with imports valued at £8.7bn last year.

Increase in variety of salads results in positive views

British Growers Association chief executive Jack Ward said: "This reflects a survey we did earlier this year — many growers are surprisingly positive. Some must be due to the increase in salads. There are now so many varieties and formats on sale. If UK growers are determined to take a share of that, it can only be a good thing."

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