Production sector study in West Midlands offers blueprint for business development

A new report on production horticulture in the West Midlands can serve as a policy tool for the whole of the UK sector, co-author Anthony Snell has claimed.

Getting to the Heart of Horticulture, backed by Defra and industry sources, was published by farming consultancy EFFP following a year-long study of the sector, including input from more than 120 growers.

But Snell, a Herefordshire soft fruit grower and former chair of the NFU West Midlands horticulture board, told Grower: "We are in the middle of the country and it largely mirrors what's going on elsewhere."

Now vice-chair of the NFU national horticulture board, he said he had been surprised by the economic and social importance of the area's horticulture, detailed in the report.

"It's worth £350m at farm gate, more than dairy or cereals, on just three per cent of the land. But it is never recognised as much as it should be."

The report makes an extensive list of recommendations for the sector, ranging from improving grower and supply chain partnerships and taking advantage of incentives and technical advances in renewable energy to establishing a replacement for the threatened Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme.

The challenges facing the sector mean that inaction is not an option, Snell warned. "Defra's figures show the decline in incomes and the high proportion of growers not making a profit. This is unsustainable."

EFFP regional manager Neil Adams said: "We hope that this report will help growers enhance their businesses, promote the sector and influence decision-makers."

Production Report - Main recommendations

- Better cooperation between growers and partnerships within the supply chain.

- Full use to be made of the EU Fruit & Vegetable Scheme.

- Development and promotion of a successor to the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme.

- Improved provision of training and career development, including apprenticeships.

- Greater use of all forms of renewable energy.

- Increased water storage and efficiency in its use.

- Better engagement with planners.

- Better partnership with research and higher-education institutions.

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