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The 'New Normal' Plight of UK Horticulture

The British horticulture industry is bracing itself for what is now being termed the 'new normal' – a daunting era of persistently high production costs that threaten the very fabric of UK agriculture.

A recent report by Promar International, commissioned by the National Farmers Union (NFU), paints a stark picture: a relentless 39% hike in production costs, primarily driven by a staggering 218% increase in energy prices, a 47% rise in fertiliser costs, and a 24% escalation in labour expenses.

This alarming trend, now in its third year, is not just a temporary blip but a fundamental shift in the operational landscape for UK horticulture. The impact is profound and far-reaching, affecting the production of Britain's favourite fruits and vegetables, including strawberries, tomatoes, apples, and lettuce.

Leading horticultural businesses, once pillars of agricultural success, are now facing the grim reality of scaling down production.

Martin Emmett, Chair of the NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board, voices a deep-seated concern that resonates across the industry. "They continue to face uncertainty with costs, uncertainty around a long-term plan for where their workforce will come from and increasingly challenging relationships within their supply chain.

"We are now facing the third year of unprecedented and highly volatile costs of production, coupled with ongoing uncertainty about the availability of permanent and seasonal workforce and supply chains that return little value back to growers."

The report suggests a looming threat of consolidation in production and distribution, raising fears that some businesses may not survive this new economic climate. Emmett underscores the urgent need for a realignment of contract planning and production cycles, which are currently misaligned, adding to the woes of growers.

The NFU's growth strategy for UK horticulture, comprising ten key points, calls for sustainable energy supplies, access to skilled labour, productivity investment, and supply chain fairness. However, Emmett's call to action is stark, urging the government to match its ambition for growth with concrete support for fruit and vegetable growers, as outlined in its Food Strategy.

Emmett's statement captures the paradox of the current crisis: "It is crazy to think that, at a time when we want people to eat more healthily, we are only 50% self-sufficient in vegetables and 15% self-sufficient in fruit."

This report, following closely on the heels of a recent House of Lords report that warned of a bleak future for the sector, highlights a critical juncture for UK horticulture.

The industry, now grappling with what is seen as the 'new normal', faces a terrifying prospect – one that calls for immediate and strategic action to safeguard the future of British agriculture.


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