East Malling strategy sets out how to boost Kent's UK food hub role

A report launched at East Malling Research (EMR) last week has set out a strategy to bolster Kent's role as "the food hub of the UK".

The first annual report of Rural PLC (Kent) speaks of "the outstanding growth potential and the opportunities for increasing national and international investment in both shortand long-term projects" in the county's food and farming sector.

But chairman of Rural PLC (Kent) and county high sheriff Mike Bax insisted that first the balance of power in the sector would have to change.

"Currently, the downstream end exerts far more influence and is better invested than the upstream end represented by the producer," he said. "This is not consistent with other industry sectors and we need to turn this round."

Access to funding is identified as a requirement for future investment in the sector, so the report proposes setting up a "food investment bank" and other financial innovations as an alternative to grant funding.

"There is a hunger for investment in infrastructure, facilities and marketing but this is often beyond reach at farmer level," Bax added.

The report valued the county's land-based sector at £5.4bn, larger than Marks & Spencer's £5.1bn.

Launched last year, Rural PLC aims to "create a voice and a platform for Kent's food and farming sectors, which have both the strength and the scale to deliver more in economic and social terms" as well as encouraging more people to choose a career in the sector and supporting education and training.

In addition to Bax, its board includes EMR chief executive Professor Peter Gregory, Hadlow College finance and resources director Mark Lumsdon-Taylor, and former NFU Kent chairman Charles Tassell.

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