Mixed fortunes for grower sectors

University of Reading Farm Business Survey reveals different fortunes of horticulture sectors.

Polytunnels: increased area was installed for growing over 2011-13 - image: HW
Polytunnels: increased area was installed for growing over 2011-13 - image: HW

The Farm Business Survey from the University of Reading's rural business research department has revealed the very different fortunes of horticulture's sectors in the 21st century so far.

The average value at current prices of soft-fruit production for the years 2011-13 was nearly double that for 2001-03, during which time around 80ha of polytunnels or glass for fruit growing were installed, a rise in area of 55 per cent.

Strawberries accounted for 38 per cent of total fruit value for the 2013-14 financial year, while top-fruit production made up 28 per cent.

Field vegetables and orchard fruit showed similar rises over the same period (51 and 49 per cent respectively), but protected vegetable production rose just 23 per cent. However, the area of protected vegetable growing has been gradually rising since 2008, following a 25 per cent fall over the 2003-08 period.

Most sectors have seen a gradual increase in farm gate prices over the 2006-13 period, though with considerable fluctuations from year to year.

Total fruit output rose by five per cent and vegetables by four per cent in 2013-14, while variable costs, including plants, chemicals, composts and packaging, rose 11 per cent and other overheads, including machinery costs, fuel, electricity, water and bank charges, went up by three per cent.

In its analysis of financial results from English horticulture, the report also found a quarter of England's fruit farm income now comes from "diversified activities" including fruit processing and packing.

Established in 1936, the survey is compiled from financial performance data from more than 1,900 farms as well as official Defra statistics. The full report is available to download for free from www.fbspartnership.co.uk.

UK horticulture - Data

- Output is valued at just over £3bn, accounting for 12 per cent of all agricultural output. In 1984, this figure was just £1,162m.

- Vegetable production accounts for 73 per cent by area, and 45 per cent by value, of total horticultural production. In 1984, it accounted for 56 per cent of value.

- Ornamental horticulture occupies just seven per cent of growing area but accounts for 37 per cent of value.

- In 2013, the total area of land occupied by production horticulture dropped five per cent to 163,000ha, largely due to a 7,000ha fall in land used for outdoor vegetable growing.

- In 2013, the UK was 38 per cent self-sufficient in vegetables and 16 per cent in all fruit. But two-thirds of fruit imports are of fruits that cannot be commercially grown in the UK.

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