Defra task force members hail chance to tackle production obstacles

Members of the newly formed fruit and vegetable task force have hailed its formation as a positive step for the fresh produce industry.

Environment secretary Hilary Benn launched the Defra-led task force last week at London's New Covent Garden Market. He revealed that its 19 members - which include growers, retailers, consumers and researchers - will develop an action plan to help increase the production and consumption of fruit and vegetables in England.

Part of this plan is to find ways for English growers to have the opportunity to produce as much as they can to meet consumer demand. Task force member David Piccaver, who is chairman of the British Leafy Salads Association, told Grower that this is a positive step for the fresh produce industry.

"We are having our first meeting next month (November) when we will look at the main issues identified in an introductory meeting with Benn at East Malling Research in July. The meeting was very well organised, so I am looking at this task force with a positive view.

"Our brief is to look at what the issues are that are restraining the industry from growing food. What are the concerns for UK production? Then it's up to the Government to decide what it feels it can do about them.

"One of the points we made at the meeting is the lack of research capability in the horticulture sector, for example."

Task force member and NFU horticulture and potatoes board chairman Sarah Pettitt is also viewing the Government's creation of the group as a positive step.

She said: "It makes sense to increase the domestic production of fruit and vegetables to satisfy the growing demand from consumers and so it's right that the Government has taken the lead in the creation of this task force.

"I look forward to working with the other parts of the supply chain and consumer representatives to ensure that the promise of the task force can be turned into action on the ground."

She added: "A number of the key hurdles facing growers have already been identified - not least the importance of ensuring that there is production-focused research and development that will help us to produce more while impacting less.

"There are already positive moves in that direction and I hope that with this task force we can continue the momentum that has been created.

"One of the key issues is having the confidence to reinvest in their businesses for the long term. That confidence can only come from understanding the need for efficient growers to receive a sufficient return. This is a difficult issue to tackle, but tackle it we must if we are to ensure that growers are going to be willing to step up production."

Other members of the task force include Nigel Jenney of the Fresh Produce Consortium and Marion Regan of Hugh Lowe Farms, Kent.

AREAS TARGETED

The task force, chaired by Benn, has been set up under the recommendation of the Council of Food Policy Advisers and is examining a number of areas, which include:

- Supply-chain relationships

- Collaboration and co-operation in the industry

- Skills and labour

- Research and development

- Input to the development of a fruit and vegetables strategy

- Collaboration with the Department of Health to help promote the "five a day" message, as well as fruit and vegetables in schools.


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