Minister notes industry challenges

Farming minister George Eustice says Defra is keen to lever in other sources for R&D funding.

Eustice: addressed the Fruit Focus event at East Malling Research - image: HW
Eustice: addressed the Fruit Focus event at East Malling Research - image: HW

Farming minister George Eustice told the Fruit Focus show that as a former soft-fruit grower himself, he appreciates the challenges facing the sector.

"Soft fruit is a perishable product and I am very conscious of the importance of off-label authorisations for niche crops," he told growers at the event, held at East Malling Research in Kent.

"The chemical companies won't spend the money to get these approvals, so we need a joined-up approach to getting these chemicals approved." Meanwhile, he added, "The precautionary principle means getting rid of products without considering the risk."

On the recent moves to develop the sector through applied research funding, he said: "In Defra we are keen to support the industry through things like the £160m Agri-Tech Strategy (ATS), in which East Malling has already been successful. I didn't think it was possible to extend the (strawberry) season any further, but the work here is really progressive and we want to support it."

On the concern raised in a recent parliamentary report that the ATS bids had been over-subscribed, Eustice said: "I am more concerned when these things are under-subscribed. We will review funding at the end of the current five years. But we are keen to lever in other sources such as using the EU fruit and vegetables regime for research and development, and to make sure the levy boards' money is going on the right research. ATS isn't the only game in town."

He added: "The fruit industry has always been the most innovative, self-sufficient, market-focused area of farming, but it has had to be. People who succeed in it have to be good in management, progressive and open to new ideas."

Soft fruit - Hard job

Speaking of his time working on his family's farm in Cornwall before entering politics, farming minister George Eustice said: "Running a strawberry harvest on a 50-acre operation is one of the hardest jobs I've done.

"You have to deal with pests and diseases, recruit 200-300 staff and then get it all into the cold store in time - then through the supply chain to the shelf, all the while hoping the weather stays nice."

He added: "I worked in soft fruit for 10 years and remember coming to the first Fruit Focus at Writtle College in 1981, when I was 10, to look for new plums for the farm."


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