Welsh assembly sets out plans to improve its horticulture industry

A strategic action plan to improve and expand the horticulture industry in Wales has been launched by the Welsh Assembly Government.

The plan identifies ways to tackle the biggest barriers facing the country's £22.6m horticulture industry, which represents just two per cent of the total Welsh agricultural output over the next couple of years.

Some of these barriers are unique to Wales, such as its poor supply chain. Other issues such as the sector's skills shortage affect the UK in general.

The plan also outlines some of the opportunities that should be harnessed by the Welsh horticulture industry, such as the nation's preference for local produce and how it could be sold in more famers' markets and in the tourism and hospitality industry.

Minister for rural affairs Elin Jones said: "There are opportunities for farmers to diversify and for existing growers to develop their business further. The increasing consumer demand for local and regional food and the increasing awareness of healthy eating initiatives and public health provide an opportunity for Wales."

The strategy was developed by the country's Horticulture Strategy Group (HSG), an advisory body to the Welsh Government made up of some of Wales's top growers and experts.

One such HSG member is Richard Arnold of the Really Welsh Trading Company, which has tapped into some of the gaps in the Welsh market by growing the country's well-known emblems - leeks and daffodils.

Arnold said: "There are some massive issues here in Wales - the main one being our supply chain. "We live in a country that is unevenly split - with most people (around 75 per cent) living in the bottom near the M4 corridor, around 10 per cent living in the north and the remainder in the rest of the country. We are therefore finding it hard to establish growing centres in west Wales, for example, because there are no facilities there to distribute our produce."

He added that all of the major retailers have their main distribution depots outside Wales in cities like Bristol.

"There is an Aldi depot in Bridgend but other than that all of our food has to leave Wales to get back into Wales. So a lot of growers fear growing stuff that will not be able to get to the supermarkets."

Another HSG member Richard Lewis of salad grower Stubbins Marketing added: "There are no supermarket category managers based in Wales and no large farms - it's made up of a lot of smaller communities. But there are a lot of opportunities for Welsh horticulture - it just needs a more entrepreneurial spirit to do it."

The action plan is part of an overarching food strategy for Wales addressing the major issues facing the country's primary food production. Lewis added: "This document is just the start of the process."

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