NFU report presses for supply relationship reform to save 'endangered' fresh produce

Urgent reform of the horticulture and potato supply chain is urged in a new NFU report that says UK fresh produce is becoming "endangered" as a result of economically unsustainable practices.

Horticulture and potatoes board chairman Sarah Dawson described Catalyst for Change as pioneering state-of-the-industry work. "We desperately need to find a better way of working together. Change is well overdue," she added.

As a vegetable grower, she said: "Things are forced on us by the supply chain that we can't control. I might get a phone call from the customer on the day of harvest saying: 'We no longer want it.' It's soul-destroying."

Describing the report's launch as a landmark day for horticulture and potatoes, NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond said: "We are shining a light on the best and worst in the industry. But we don't want to be seen only to be beating up the retailers. We want to improve relationships and raise efficiency. Otherwise we will have more imports, less choice and, in all likelihood, higher prices."

Raymond, a Pembrokeshire potato and arable farmer, added: "We realise there is volatility in the sector but in the past two or three years conditions have been particularly difficult. Land rents are going up while energy, fertilisers and machinery represent huge investments. If you can't make a return, you have to question what you are doing."

NFU chief horticulture adviser and lead author of the report Hayley Campbell-Gibbons said: "We have let the retailers know this is coming and I think it will get some interesting reactions."

Retailers and packers will be urged to sign an 11-point "Fruit & Veg Pledge", covering relationships with growers, she added. "We will publish the names of those who sign up. There will be significant PR for the first."

Inside view - Tom Salmon, retired protected edible grower

"A cucumber in the supermarket costs 90p, with around 27p going back to the grower. Even in dairy, it's more like half the retail price. A few pence more would make a big difference to growers - as would longer-term agreements, to allow them to invest in their businesses. A combined heat and power unit costs £5m. To commit to that, you need to know where your market will be in five years."

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