Horticulture Farming – Continuous Rise Of Fruit Imports Raises Concerns

Farmers in the UK have recently raised concerns after data released by the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs showed a significant rise in imported fruit.

Despite calls by British farmers to use their fruit, it seems that national supermarkets and big chains are continuing to look abroad in order to stock their shelves.

And it’s no secret that some European countries sell fruit for a lot cheaper, meaning farmers in the UK find it hard to compete with their international neighbours.

The statistics, which go back as far as 1988, show a low but rising trend in the purchasing of fruits from bordering countries like Spain, France and Italy.

The numbers below show the rise in imports of apples, pears, cider apples, bananas, grapes, cherries, plums, peaches and lemons – to name but a few.

Year              Imports (per thousand tonnes)

2010              3,242

2011              3,361

2012              3,421

2013              3,564

2014              3,615

2015              3,713


List shows details between years 2010 & 2015 only. Year 2015 statistics are provisional.

Full list dating back to 1988 can be viewed here. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/horticulture-statistics-2015  

In relation to the statistics, a representative from the NFU said;

‘‘There are many challenges facing British growers to remain competitive against imported produce: the National Living Wage makes UK labour costs one of the highest in Europe; fresh produce assurance standards are some of the highest in the world; and growers have access to fewer plant protection products.’’

‘’At the same time, retailers are driving down prices to unsustainable levels and in some cases selling produce at below its cost of production.’’

‘‘However, British consumers are increasingly demanding British produce and some sectors of horticulture have seen encouraging growth.’’  

‘‘The NFU continues to challenge the industry and government to deliver fairness and transparency throughout the supply chain so that growers have the confidence to invest and to continually drive efficiency gains.’’

With a future of uncertainty looming (especially in light of the Brexit vote), many farmers have called for the UK Government to stand up and be counted.

‘‘Now that Theresa May  has her feet under the table, she should be doing something about this.’’ said Maggie Dent, a horticulturist and farmer from Pontefract.

‘‘The British people voted out, so in light of that, we should be looking after British farmers first.’’

4th generation farmer Ray Fisher, of Stoke on Trent, puts the majority of blame on to the major retailers;

‘‘The big supermarkets don’t want our produce any more.’’

‘‘Prices tend to be cheaper abroad so the major retailers go there. But if I reduced my prices any more, I’d go out of business. It’s a huge shame for the industry in this country.’’

‘‘The likes of Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury’s should look closer to home. They have no idea how many lives are being ruined as a consequence.’’

It remains to be seen whether or not this trend will continue, but as numbers have risen year on year, it’s difficult to see any immediate change taking place.

Pulling out of Europe could determine if the mass production and sale of fruit in the UK has any future at all, (especially if supermarkets find it harder to source), but it does seem certain that, until this issue is resolved, some farmers will struggle to make ends meat.