Lea Valley highlights production barriers

Whoever is left wearing the critical food security mantle after next week's election is expected to continue the long overdue work of assessing the obstacles to increasing fruit and vegetable production in the UK.

They would do well to make the members of the Lea Valley Growers Association their first point of call.

Here, as we report this week (p30), they will find growers eager to expand salad crop production and with a (supermarket) customer base keen to sell more home-grown fresh produce. The problem is that with yields near the limit of current technology, the only way they can produce more is to build more of the modern horticultural facilities they need. But the planning system won't let them.

Businesses such as family-run UK Salads that know they could sell whatever they produce to customers wanting more home-grown product, talk of the near impossibility of getting hold of land and then getting any development proposals through the planning system.

Of course, the problems faced by the Lea Valley's growers are far from unique. West Sussex Growers Association's groundbreaking study into the future of the glasshouse sector published earlier this year was born out of exactly the same frustrations. It notes that in the food sector, where most planning applications for the largest glasshouses lie due to economies of scale, developments are increasingly being turned down.

Armed with statistics that illustrate the critical importance of the glasshouse sector to its region, the West Sussex growers hope they can begin to turn around this growing tide of rejections.

At this year's Oxford farming conference, after announcing the launch of the Government's Food 2030 strategy, environment secretary Hilary Benn told the sector: "Your job as growers and producers is to seize the opportunity and show what you can do using all the ingenuity and tenacity that is inherent in farming, fishing and food." Our message to whoever is holding the food security baton after next week is this: the UK's growers have done everything they reasonably can. Now it's the politicians' turn to show us what they can do - to help ameliorate the obstacles to increased production that growers face.

Kate Lowe, editor. Email: kate.lowe@haymarket.com

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