Fruit & veg shortfall sparks a new home-grown roadmap

With England's horticultural producers under untenable pressure, the latest home-grown report provides a map to get out of the mess we're in

Fruit and vegetables are the foundation of healthy and sustainable diets. Yet as a sector, edible horticulture is facing unprecedented challenges – from rising production costs to limited labour availability, unpredictable weather conditions and low profit margins. The vulnerability this creates is pushing many growers beyond breaking point – with 49% of growers worried that they could be out of business within the next 12 months, as highlighted by Riverford’s Get Fair About Farming campaign.

This month sees the publication of Home-grown: A roadmap to resilient fruit and vegetable production in England. A collaboration, 360 report published by The Soil Association, Sustain and The Wildlife Trusts, the report contains a slew of stark statistics.

  • Only 2% of England’s farmed land is dedicated to horticulture, and production is declining year-on-year.
  • Only 17% of the fruit we eat in the UK is produced in the UK
  • 55% of our vegetables are produced in the UK
  • The UK NHS spends an estimated £6.5bn a year on dietary-related ill health
  • Only 33% of adults get their recommended 5-a-day

To mitigate the spiralling issues related to poor dietary health, The National Food Strategy – a government-commissioned independent review, led by Henry Dimbleby –  recommends a 30% increase in fruit and veg consumption by 2032.

Worried about biodiversity loss? Focus on food. Worried about freshwater supply and quality? Focus on food. Worried about deforestation? Focus on food. Worried about overfishing? Focus on food. Worried about climate change? Focus on energy, and food. Richard Waite, World Resources Institute, April 2021

The home-grown report calls for the urgent prioritisation of local and agroecological farming systems, such as organic, to be developed across the country and transitioned away from lowland peat. To help guide this shift, the report outlines seven steps to restore resilience to the horticulture sector – boosting the production and consumption of fruit and veg in England.

Step One

Develop a cross-departmental approach to horticultural policy

The Government’s food strategy found that the UK’s overall self-sufficiency rate is 75%, but for fresh fruit, this figure is 17%. This leaves us vulnerable to fluctuations in cost and supply. It also leaves public health in a dire state. A substantial increase in fruit and veg consumption is needed, which requires a reliable supply of healthy, fresh produce. Yet, we are presently over-reliant on imports. Supporting homegrown production is key to addressing these interconnected issues.

The report urges the government to:

  • Develop a comprehensive, cross-departmental Horticulture strategy
  • Ensure horticulture is adequately supported through ELMs and the agricultural transition
  • Launch a public campaign to boost consumption of fruit and veg

Step Two

Support a just transition towards farming on peat-free soils

Despite covering only 10% of UK land area, peatlands are our largest terrestrial carbon store, locking up more carbon than the forests of the UK, Germany, and France combined. However, after centuries of exploitation, only 20% of the UK’s peatlands remain in near-natural condition.

In total, 90% of the UK’s lowland peatlands have been drained to create some of the most intensively farmed agricultural and horticultural land in the UK.

Key issues related to peatland degradation include:

Climate change. 2.26% of UK farmland is on lowland peat, but it makes up 29% of total UK agricultural emissions.
Biodiversity loss. The loss of our native peatland habitats is largely due to the intensification of agriculture: a key driver in nature’s decline, with one in six species now at risk of extinction in Britain.
Soil subsidence + loss. Estimates suggest that farming and ploughing on drained peat in England results in the loss of between 10-30mm peat per year.
Hydrological changes. Peatland drainage impacts the hydrology of adjacent peatlands, which increases flood risk by reducing the ability of these lands to absorb rainwater during storm surges. It also increase vulnerability to landscapes to drought during dry periods.

The report recommends:

  • A phased relocation of arable and hort production from lowland peat to mineral soils.
  • Resources to help build capacity elsewhere for field veg and tackle barriers to diversification, including support for labour and infrastructure such as storing, processing, marketing and housing.
  • Resources to also include payments for environmental benefits and action to address unreasonable supermarket cosmetic specifications, which require peat soils.
  • Finance for more sustainable farming practices across remaining lowland peatlands and improved investment in agricultural research.

Step Three

Decentralise production and scale up agroecological host across the country

Unless farmers are supposed in a wide scale transition to renewable energy, vertical farming and heated greenhouses – both of which are energy-intensive – are unlikely to provide viable solutions to national food insecurity.

Agroecological horticulture, on the other hand, includes a broad spectrum of nature-friendly and low energy methods, such as no-dig, organic and community-supported agriculture (CSA), whose common aims are to restore soil health, build resilience against climate change, support biodiversity and produce nutritious food that also benefits local communities.

A first step may be to boost short in urban and peri-urban areas, around towns and cities. When we remember that less than 2% of the UK’s land is taken up by fruit and veg production, we can see how doubling land use would have huge impact on production but only marginal impact on overall land use.

The report recommends that the UK:

  • Harness the Land Use Framework to double land used for edible hort production.
  • Drive research to map out opportunities for future production.
  • Support a diverse and resilient workforce.

With four further recommendations, rooted in the improvement of supply chain fairness and flexibility, optimising the potential of public procurement (read our report on this, here), boosting non-profit and social enterprises, and investing in farmer-led research, collaboration and innovation, the entire report can be viewed and downloaded here.


Leave a Reply

  1. We rely too heavily on southern Europe and the Middle East for our produce. These regions are increasingly suffering from drought due to overexploitation and climate change. Meanwhile, the warming climate is lengthening the growing season in this country which will expand the kinds of crops we can sow.

    Why did we became so reliant on imports? Because Thatcher’s administration opted to favour multinational corporations over smaller local farms and the public came to prefer cheap, year-round produce. (Also recently because of the labour issues mentioned in the article, now worsened by Brexit).

    So the government, farmers *and* consumers all need to push for the kind of structural and cultural changes required to improve our self-sufficiency. As the author points out, this transition to sustainable practices will be a tough row to hoe, at first– but it’s doable.

  2. Please can you explain Paludiculture, and is it good for the environment?- we have a scheme near us in the Norfolk Broads at Horsey Marshes.

  3. So, at a stroke of a pen , Nth Lincolnshire has lost 7000 acres to solar panels, 2000 acres lost on the Mallard pass on the Rutland/Lincs border …..what is this madness ??? 1.5 million houses to be built …just what are we going to eat ….each other maybe !


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