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Suffolk Farmers Pivot to Less Risky Crops Amid Sector Challenge

In Suffolk, field vegetable crops are being abandoned as farmers opt for less risky alternatives, according to an industry expert.


Image courtesy of BBC News

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) policy manager for the East of England has highlighted the immense pressure on the region's horticultural sector.


Charles Hesketh from the NFU reported, "We have been hearing of sector contraction for the last few years as a result of the challenges principally due to fairness in the supply chain, input price inflation, and access to labour."


The shift has seen orchards uprooted across Kent and former vegetable fields in Suffolk repurposed for combinable crop production, as the costs and difficulties of growing traditional crops have become prohibitive.


The NFU has criticised the government's response to the House of Lords Horticulture Sector Committee Report for failing to adequately address these significant challenges. However, there remains potential for growth in the UK fruit, vegetable, plants, and flower industry, according to Hesketh, who emphasised the need for action beyond mere words.


The government, in its response, has committed to supporting the horticulture sector, identifying it as a growth area in its Food Strategy published in 2022 and promising a Horticulture Strategy.


Martin Emmett, chair of the NFU horticulture and potatoes board, expressed disappointment in the government's response, highlighting the sector's £5bn contribution to the UK economy.


He pointed out the ongoing challenges of unprecedented production costs and supply chains that offer little return to growers. Emmett stressed the importance of not relying on imports for the nation's food supply and called for government support to match its ambitions for the sector.


This includes providing British growers with certainty through a consistent plan for seasonal labour and sustainable returns, alongside longer-term contracts with retailers and processors.


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