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Fruit and veg supply at risk from cost hike

Farmers have warned that UK fruit and vegetable production is under threat from the soaring cost of inputs.

A new report commissioned by the National Farmers Union (NFU) and carried out by Promar International found growers have had to cope with cost hikes of up to 39% over the past two years with strawberries, tomatoes, apples and lettuce among the produce most affected.

A more than 200% increase in the cost of energy along with a 47% hike in fertiliser and 24% in labour costs has seen horticulture businesses shelve plans for growth and even consider cutting production.

The report also warned that high production costs, along with ongoing global volatility, are now seen as the ‘new normal’ and businesses aren’t expecting the situation to change any time soon.

Supermarkets, meanwhile, continue to battle one another on price, heaping extra pressure on food supply chains. Last week Asda launched a discounter pricing scheme which pledges to match both Aldi and Lidl prices on 287 comparable grocery products including fresh fruit and vegetables.

“I am seriously concerned to hear from growers they are thinking about cutting production this coming season while 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,” said NFU horticulture and potatoes board chair, Martin Emmett.

Emmett said growers are doing everything they can to ensure the supply of home-grown fruit and vegetables but said there is likely to be further consolidation in production and distribution. “If pressures continue as they are, it will be unsustainable for some businesses,” he added.

The government recently launched a review aimed at improving fairness in the UK fresh produce supply chain having previously axed plans for a dedicated strategy for the horticulture sector.

The UK is only 50% self-sufficient in vegetables and 15% in fruit. Meanwhile, key import markets like Spain are grappling with their own set of challenges as more frequent extreme weather events impact the quality and reliability of yields.