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Monthly Archives

July 2021

British Growers News Update

By Industry News

Quick round up

The past few weeks have been dominated by the ongoing impact of the pandemic which is affecting the fresh produce sector in numerous different ways.

Labour availability is even tighter than last year due to a combination of the new immigration rules, a delay in setting up the two new Seasonal Worker permit operators and intense competition for staff from other higher margin industries. We are in conversation with Defra on this issue and in particular the need to confirm an extension to the current Seasonal Worker permit scheme into 2022.

Cost increases in staffing, haulage, packaging, fertiliser and almost everything else is challenging the already slim margins which most growers operate on. The Brassica Growers recently put out a press statement calling for additional support from retailers to assist with these unprecedented and unplanned costs increases. There has been a significant take up of the release including the Sunday Times.

For the past 8 months we have been asking Defra for an extension to the PO funding for POs whose programmes expire in the next couple of years. In time for Fruit Focus, Defra issued a statement stating that funding will continue for the POs with programmes ending in 2021 and 2022 to avoid (in their words) an ‘airgap’ in funding.

National Food strategy

We have been in conversation with the team working on the National Food Strategy regarding future support for the sector. We shared with them several ideas we have been working on which could form the basis of a new look support scheme for the sector. So, it was interesting to see some of our thinking coming through in the final report and recommendations. This is a brief summary of the elements which are possibly of most interest and immediate relevance:

  • Fresh produce is the sector of primary food production where growth most squarely aligns with the national interest.
  • There are clear opportunities for UK growers to secure a greater share of the UK market.
  • One priority for Defra should be fruit and vegetable growing, with its innovation funding becoming a key component of an ambitious growth strategy for fresh produce, developed with the industry.
  • Fruit and vegetable production should be supported by a wider programme of investment to boost horticultural productivity sustainably, creating a less bureaucratic, more inclusive and better funded successor to the previous EU Fruit and Vegetable Regime.
  • Defra should adapt the best elements of the EU scheme, to create a package of investment that aligns more closely with Government, consumer and grower requirements.

The next step is for the Govt to respond to the recommendations, and we expect their response to be published in around six months. The challenge for us is to follow up on the strategy recommendations and move them from recommendation status to tangible measures to support the industry over the next decade.

R&D in the fresh produce sector

We know from our discussions with Defra that the future of R&D for the sector is under active consideration. The problem is … we not very clear what ideas are under active discussion and while the Minister in her presentation to the recent Festival of Fresh conference restated Defra’s intention to honour the outcome of the vote, she wasn’t forthcoming about any options for the future.

In the meantime, the Grower Better Levy Group (which comprises a voluntary group of 36 independent business operating in the horticulture and potato sectors) has been actively working on a future R&D strategy and structure and recently published the following list of asks which have been presented to Victoria Prentis.

  • R&D provision will be competitively tendered for.
  • Key AHDB staff must not be lost from the industry and halted projects deemed vital by the sectors must be completed.
  • The continuation of a small Statutory Levy is necessary to fund critical work.
  • A larger voluntary investment levy will be necessary for agreed programmes of work and growers should have the ability to vote for this by sector on a regular basis.
  • Within crop sectors, voluntary funds will be raised for the whole sector to fund projects that benefit all, or they will be raised on an individual crop basis for crop specific projects. The option will be there to fund longer term projects.
  • To fund programmes of work, crop specific investment funds will be created, accessing investment funds. Tax relief and match funding by Defra should be made available.
  • The overhead costs should not exceed 15% of levies paid.

For further information about the Grower Better Levy Group, go to their page.

The Pingdemic and critical roles

We have had conversations with Defra about including critical harvest roles within the list of roles which fall into the category of reasonable excuses to leave the self-isolation rules.

In mid-July the Govt published a list of roles in sectors covered by Defra’s remit which would qualify as ‘reasonable excuses to leave the isolation rules’, although anyone taking up this option would need to abide by a longish list of other equally stringent requirements instead. Unfortunately, the list does not include any harvest activities or indeed any on farm type activities. I am guessing with the increase in infection rates, the Govt is reluctant to go too far in relaxing the rules in the hope infection rates will continue to fall and their 16 August target of scrapping self-isolation for the double-jabbed who are pinged by the NHS contact tracing app is – to use the words of the Prime Minster – “nailed on”.

 

Download PDF here

Outdoor Cucurbits – Pumpkins and Winter Squash Variety Trials

By Industry News

The Outdoor Cucurbit Growers Group in conjunction with NIAB and AHDB invite you to their Pumpkins and Winter Squash Variety Trials Open Day on Thursday 30 September from 10.30 am to 1.00 pm.  The event will be held at NIAB Park Farm in Histon, Cambridge.

 

There will be a formal tour of the pumpkin and winter squash demo plots.  This will be followed with variety and agronomy updates, and networking opportunities with growers, agronomists and seed companies.

 

The event is available to all which attracts many growers and producers thereby giving you an excellent opportunity to reach a targeted audience of those involved with the Outdoor Cucurbit industry.

 

At this moment in time the event is going ahead as planned, however if Government restrictions come into force at the time due to the pandemic we will contact and update all who have registered and are interested in the event.

 

Registration is via Eventbrite, please use the following link:  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/outdoor-cucurbits-pumpkins-and-winter-squash-variety-trials-tickets-163979333601

Brassica & Leafy Salad Conference 2022

By Industry News

We are pleased to announce that the Brassica and Leafy Salad Conference will take place on Wednesday 19 January 2022 and will be a face-to-face event and not held online.

After COVID-19 put a stop to the arrangements in 2021, we have re-shaped our plans to bring you the 2022 Brassica and Leafy Salad Conference. The event will take place at the East of England Arena & Events Centre in Peterborough on Wednesday 19 January 2022 and will comprise of conference day and a gala dinner.

The conference will bring together the latest industry updates, emerging technologies and research as well as providing a platform for invaluable networking.

We will shortly be issuing our sponsorship opportunities, we would like to thank our affiliated industries in advance, without your support our industry event would not be able to reach the heights it has previously achieved.  If you would like to learn more about the sponsorship packages, please email admin@britishgrowers.org.

Networking is a huge role of the conference, the venue we have chosen boasts a large exhibition area. We have many exhibitor packages on offer to provide the opportunity to speak to the Brassica and Leafy Salad sectors. If you would like to learn more about the exhibition spaces, please email admin@britishgrowers.org.

Further information on conference line up, ticket purchasing, and event details will be issued in due course. For more information, please contact the office on 01507 353792 or admin@britishgrowers.org

Download Exhibition registration form here

General Terms & Conditions 2022 here

 

We might as well pack up and go home!

By Company News, Industry News

‘We might as well pack up and go home unless returns improve’ was the verdict at a recent meeting of Brassica Growers.

This season has seen shortages of workers, transport and packaging materials resulting in rapidly escalating costs for growers. But returns for fresh produce have remained static. ‘We thought last season was challenging with the Covid restrictions but 2021 has brought a whole new set of challenges’ reflected one grower.

New immigrations rules and quarantine regulations have affected the willingness of Settled and Pre settled status workers to return to the UK and increase the reliance on the new Seasonal Worker Permit scheme. Growers are experiencing intense competition for workers from higher margin industries who are tempting some staff away from the UK’s fresh produce sector.

The well documented shortage of haulage drivers has driven up haulage prices and led to a scarcity of drivers especially at weekends. Consumers expect to find shelves stocked with fresh produce 24/7 and this is getting increasingly more difficult due to current transport shortages.

Packaging is another commodity which seems to be in short supply resulting in higher and higher prices. Even the costs of fertiliser and basic machinery are outstripping the rate of inflation with prices up by as much as 40%.

Jack Ward CEO of British Growers said we are seeing similar comments across the fresh produce sector with other crops such as onions, carrots and leeks experiencing the same problems.  We’re reaching the time in the year where the sector is flat out and retailers depend on the UK’s growers for supplies of super fresh vegetables and fruit. We desperately need to see an improvement in returns to growers to cover these escalating input costs. Labour costs have risen by as much as 15% already as growers try to attract staff and compete with other industries. Haulage contracts are proving more difficult to arrange with prices up by 10% and the possibility of further rises as the season progresses.

Vegetables and fruit represent incredibly good value for money, but growers need to cover their costs and reinvest in their businesses. ‘We can’t operate in an environment where costs go up and up and product prices don’t – this is a road to ruin. Everyone is focused on improving efficiency and delivering more for less, but this can only go so far’ said one grower.

With the interest in healthy eating and the increased consumption of vegetables and fruit, we should be looking at an exciting new phase of fresh produce production here in the UK. But unless there is some acceptance that returns to growers must reflect increased input costs, the appetite to soldier on and reinvest for the future is being seriously eroded. Growers keep being asked to mitigate inflation, but they are already working on paper-thin margins and there is nothing left to be squeezed. Unless there is a serious shift in the valuation of food, we are at risk of crops being left in the ground and supermarket shelves left empty.

Contact

Jack Ward: postbox@britishgrowers.org