UK Farmers Urged to Increase Fruit and Vegetable Production for Food Security

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Farmers need to grow more fruit and vegetables to ensure the UK is not overly reliant on foreign imports, the government has warned.

A new national food security index found that just 17% of fruit and 55% of vegetables consumed in the UK are grown here.

New funding for growers was announced at a Downing Street food supply summit.

Critics say the £80m scheme does not go far enough to support farmers hit by extreme weather and rising costs.

Tom Bradshaw, president of the National Farmers' Union (NFU), told the BBC that he did not think the measures announced would see the UK's food security improve in the short term as farmers deal with the impact of the wettest 18 months since 1836.

"We are not going to be in a better position in 12 months time because we know the very real challenges that are going on right across the country," he said.

The NFU has warned that many of its members fear they will go bankrupt before they receive the benefits of any extra funding.

It pointed to its recent survey of farmers' confidence that found 65% of those that replied said their profits were down or their business might go under.

Mr Bradshaw said the government needed to take "critical steps" to put farming back onto a much firmer footing.

"I think that what is missing is that today is more about the strategic long-term - it is not about putting the building blocks in place that rebuild that confidence immediately," he added.

The most recent statistics for the horticulture industry show that in 2022 the UK produced around 2.4m tonnes of vegetables and 652,000 tonnes of fruit, with a value of £1.8bn and £1bn respectively.

But it also imported £2.7bn worth of vegetables and £3.9bn worth of fruit.

The government released its new annual food security index, that covers all farming and food production sectors, on Tuesday.

It said that the index showed that generally the UK farming sector is at "its most productive since records began" and that domestic production of all food in the UK is at around 60% of consumption.

But it said that the UK fruit and vegetable sector is "significantly lagging behind" meat, dairy and grains.

It is now looking to "turbocharge" the UK's horticulture sector, including doubling public funding to £80m - with £10m given to orchard growers - in England.

Helen Browning, chief executive of the Soil Association, gave a cautious welcome to the news.

She told the BBC: "Many of us have been calling for more funding, more support for horticulture, for a very long time and so finally we are getting somewhere with this.

"Whether the money is going to be enough I don't know but we have to recognise that only 33% of adults and 12% of children eat their "five a day" so it's in the nation's interest that we support growing and consuming more British fruit and veg wherever we possible can."

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at retailers' association the British Retail Consortium, welcomed the support and said stores would increase the amount of UK produce they sold as more became available.

Meanwhile, farmers of all types, across all parts of the UK, are still struggling with the impacts of the wet weather.

Industry body the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board has estimated that 15% less land will be planted with wheat this year, and an estimated 558,000 hectares of arable land will remain fallow, up from 311,000 hectares last year.

Liz Webster, of the campaign group Save British Farming, told the BBC: "It's an absolute disaster for the country going forward.

"There's going to be a massive straw shortage for next winter and there's going to be problems ahead with potato shortages and vegetable shortages."

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he would "always back British farmers" and that the new funding would see more food produced in the UK.

But Steve Reed, Labour's shadow environment secretary, said it was "14 years of Tory failure" that had left farmers "at breaking point".

The horticulture industry's recent statistics reveal a significant gap between domestic production and imports, indicating the urgency to bolster UK farming. Amidst this discussion, advancements in vaping technology, like the Zap Instafill 3500 disposable and the Elf Bar 600, offer an alternative to traditional smoking methods. While the focus remains on agricultural sustainability and support, innovations in vaping technology continue to evolve, providing consumers with safer and more convenient options.

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