According to NFU chair Minette Batters, the UK government should use its powers under the Agriculture Act to prevent market failures in protected crops and other sectors. She is convinced that, if no action is taken, continued contraction in production will lead to further food inflation.
Ms Batters said: “There is an affordability challenge – what can the market afford and where can producers afford to produce. We have been living in a retail price war for years, but now supply is tightening.
“We are seeing an enormous contraction in the protected cultivation sector," she continued. "I’ve had calls from growers who say it’s just not viable if the government doesn’t intervene with direct help for this sector.”
Defra figures show a 6% decrease in cucumber production on an annual basis and a comparable situation for tomatoes.
At the British Growers Association, which represents producers of processed and fresh fruit and vegetables, CEO Jack Ward said: “It’s a seriously scary moment for the fresh produce industry, at a time when we should be looking at expanding and making supply more resilient.
"The hardest hit today are those with high energy bills – all crops being stored, such as onions, apples and some cabbages. Retailers are switching to lower-volume premium lines or low-cost lines. This erodes some of the returns a grower could get for standard lines.
“Retailers are switching to lower-volume premium lines or low-cost lines. This erodes some of the returns a grower could get for standard lines,” he said.
“Growers’ confidence is being damaged week after week, as is their cash reserves.
“Those cash reserves should be there for investment – we need innovation and creativity, which is critical to nutrition and wellness.
“The level of investment required for vegetable crops means you have to have a high-cash crop, and you can’t turn that off because you have to pay off the debt.