NFU chief horticultural adviser Hayley Campbell-Gibbons has called for industry-focused research, better market data and a solution to seasonal labour to turn around declining rates of national self-sufficiency.
"It is the key indicator and if it falls it's a sign that the industry is on a downward trend," she warned at last week's ADAS vegetable conference.
The UK's overall self-sufficiency in fruit and vegetables has dropped to 53 per cent, prompting Campbell-Gibbons to ask why some crops are succeeding in displacing imports and others are not.
"Self-sufficiency in soft fruit has risen in recent years to 68 per cent, whereas the UK has gone from being a net exporter of peas and beans to being only 76 per cent self-sufficient," she said.
"Growers point to price pressure, the loss of crop protection products that growers elsewhere still use and the problems with producer organisations that other countries have been spared."
Among possible remedies, she suggested: "We need a research agenda that is focused on industry needs, improved market intelligence and a solution to the annual problem of seasonal labour."
She accused retailers of pursuing a price-centric policy towards suppliers that was not sustainable or in accordance with the Groceries Supply Code of Practice.
"The code needs to have teeth to penalise financially," she said. "But need to be clear about what we want the supermarkets to do."
"Seven retailers have 87 per cent of the fresh produce market and that's likely to contract further. They have the whip hand. But we deal with almost all of them and have good relationships. Seasonal labour is essential for us - it would be difficult to operate without it. We are probably a decade away from automated harvesting."
Stephen West, financial director, Shropshire Group