West Sussex Growers Association flags food supply potential

Commercial growers based in the unique growing environment of the Chichester plain have the potential to significantly increase import substitution but need planners, bankers and Government policy on their side, West Sussex Growers Association chair Colin Frampton told attendees at the group's annual dinner last week.

He cited planning as an example of the challenges facing growers who were being encouraged by the Government to boost home produced food security.

"Planning has been an important issue this year, with one of our members having to go to appeal over the citing and building of a new generation glasshouse nursery," he said.

"We have to decide as a county and as a district how we square the circle of integrating large glasshouses with the local community and infrastructure. If not here, then where?"

Meanwhile a "stop-go" Gov­ernment energy policy had wasted huge amounts of time and effort by growers who were thinking beyond gas supplies.

The "sudden and dramatic" reductions in the subsidy rates for solar-power feed-in tariffs had seen many members’ projects postponed or abandoned.

The association, which in 2010 produced a groundbreaking study highlighting the industry’s critical importance to the region, has been asked to support a feasibility study on future glasshouse clusters and energy hubs.

In the past year alone, said Frampton, local businesses had invested millions of pounds in pepper, tomato and strawberry production facilities. But still more crops could be grown in the UK with the right backing from outside the industry.

The association has hosted numerous visits this year including one from Parlia­mentary under-secretary for the natural environment Richard Benyon, who is responsible for Government policy on peat.

Frampton said: "As a product, peat is vital and irreplaceable to many of our local businesses and the association will fight any unreasonable use reductions vigorously."

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