Agri-Tech Strategy: UK horticulture sector calls for re-balancing of R&D spend

by Tim Mudge

The British Growers Association (BGA) has welcomed today’s publication of the UK Agricultural Technologies Strategy as the strongest recognition by Government for more than 30 years of the strategic importance of supporting a productive, resilient, hi-tech UK farming sector.

Highlighting the major opportunities within the horticulture sector to increase home-grown production, displace imports and boost economic activity, BGA chief executive James Hallett said it was time for the UK fresh produce sector to secure its fair share of public sector R&D investment.

“The Agri-Tech Strategy calls for new thinking, and a new partnership approach between industry, Government and the science base to unlock and realise the true potential of our primary production sectors.”

“Rather than propping up inefficient sectors or addressing market failure, this Strategy breaks new ground in calling for a focus on those sectors which offer maximum growth potential and in which the UK has global leadership potential.”

“Nowhere is this more evident than the £3.7bn UK fresh produce sector, which accounts for 22% of farm-gate sales by value yet historically has attracted less than 10% of the public sector research pot. Pro-rata, the horticulture sector should be attracting over £100m of taxpayer investment in research, not the £20-40m it currently receives.”

“From field veg, potatoes and fruit to salad and protected crops, horticulture is a high-value sector of the rural economy, accounting for just 4% of the farmed area yet with enormous opportunity – through investment in innovation – to expand production, create new jobs on top of the 100,000 already employed within the sector, and displace up to £2bn of the £4bn UK trade gap in fresh produce.

“Scientific and technological advances within our sector, from plant genetics and growing systems to precision engineering and informatics, are opening up significant new opportunities to boost output and improve efficiency within the production and supply chain.

“Targeted investment in new collaborations between the science base and industry can help unlock this potential. Government, research councils and other funding bodies cannot afford to overlook the horticulture sector if they are serious about exploiting opportunities for economic growth in the agri-food industry,” said Mr Hallett.

Mr Hallett was speaking at the eastern region launch of the Government’s Agri-Tech Strategy, hosted by George Freeman MP, the Government’s Life Sciences Adviser, at G’s fresh produce site near Ely in Cambridgeshire.

Unveiling the Strategy, Mr Freeman said:

“Modern farming is about reducing impact and maximising yield, and the UK horticulture sector in particular – which includes leading international companies such as G’s based here in the East of England - has the potential to become a world-class hub of research, innovation, high growth companies and new career opportunities. Breakthroughs in genetic science, IT, remote sensing, precision farming, agricultural engineering and modern food supply chains are driving an exciting new ‘Agri-Tech’ sector, with new opportunities for economic growth and technology-based exports. The Agri-Tech Strategy provides a vision and framework to unlock that potential.”

ENDS




About BGA:
The British Growers Association (BGA) represents UK fresh produce growers. The British horticulture sector is worth £3.7bn to the UK economy, employing over 100,000 full-time and seasonal workers. Horticulture is a high-value sector of the rural economy, producing 20% of the output value of UK farming on just 4% of the land area. BGA works to support an innovative, technically advanced and environmentally responsible horticulture sector, combining efficient production of high quality fresh produce with careful stewardship and protection of natural resources.

Contact:
James Hallett, chief executive, British Growers Association
T: 07775 644475
E: james.hallett@britishgrowers.org
W: www.britishgrowers.org

Daniel Pearsall, Front Foot Communications
T: 01778 426333
E: daniel.pearsall@frontfoot.uk.com