Preview 2009: Edibles production

Growers optimistic despite tougher trading conditions

The weak economy, hardball supermarkets and labour issues will take their toll this year, but growers still reckon that 2009 could usher in some benefits to the industry.

British Independent Fruit Growers' Association chairman John Breach said: "The weak pound will make imported material expensive and affect labour. Workers from overseas could dry up because pay packets will be hit when they take their sterling back home. The credit crunch will manifest itself in other ways.

"Supermarkets are likely to continue to try and force prices down, but there's a general feeling fuel and fertiliser costs may come down in 2009.

"The good news is that the Competition Commission is leaning more towards introducing an ombudsman and the possibility of a code of practice could be closer.

"If supermarkets have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear and it's heartening to see an indication that some of them don't seem to object."

Soft fruit grower and former Horticulture Week Grower of the Year Anthony Snell said: "The year could be marked by supermarkets further devaluing our product by driving down prices and going for value lines to the detriment of our industry.

"Government rules on labour supply will continue to make availability harder, but 2009 will also be good for growers.

"Government PR on the benefits of fruit and veg will intensify. And though recessions are not good, growers tend to do fairly well - better than car-component makers."

British Leafy Salads Association chairman David Piccaver said: "The weather will have more of an effect on salads than the credit crunch, so we'll just have to wait and see.

"We are not immune from the influence of changing purchasing habits, but while the recession bites, consumers are likely to eat at home and go for good-value salads.

"And, fortunately, supermarkets have made strong efforts to rationalise salad bags in 2008 and this could also help sales this year.

"Sadly, we must also wait and see how the EU machinations over pesticides turn out, but the issue will be an important factor in 2009.

"The year ended well, with the Home Office announcing an increase in the size of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme, allowing 5,000 more workers into the UK.

"This is a big plus and a real vote of confidence from ministers who have seen the light on food security. This year could still be a bright one for fresh produce."

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Professor Geoffrey Dixon

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