Tomato growers demand a level playing field

British tomato growers have received positive signals from the Government but still face a tough investment climate, according to British Tomato Growers Association (BTGA) chairman Nigel Bartle.

"Government used to say: 'Oh, we can always import,' but now there is an understanding that we need to grow more ourselves. They need to ensure growers have a level playing field," he said.

"I would abolish the EU's PO (producer organisation) subsidies, so no one has an advantage. In chemicals too - we don't necessarily want to use them but if we import food that has been grown using them we should be able to use them as well."

But he described the Government's Agri-Tech Strategy as a great step in the right direction. "Our efficiency is lagging because our R&D infrastructure hasn't been invested in," he added. "But historically we have been brilliant innovators."

Tomatoes are a £600m market in the UK, of which just 20 per cent is home-grown. "We could double that with an investment of £200m but banks don't generally see horticulture as a viable investment. Thanet Earth is awesome but that's a Dutch investment and Cornerways is a PLC. Yet in Canada we saw an incredibly impressive 20ha glasshouse next to a bioethanol plant, all funded by pension funds."

The BTGA again provided Parliament with UK-grown tomatoes during British Tomato Week (19-25 May), with promotions in supermarket and even the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

"We don't want people to buy them because they're British but because they are fresher and better flavoured," said Bartle. "Feedback we get from events and on Twitter tells us people agree, though it's taken a long time."

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