National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president Minette Batters has warned that increasing labour and energy costs are leading to a contraction of the top fruit industry and a reduction in the UK’s area of orchards.
At the same time research from by Market Intelligence Services (MIS) showed that almost half the apple packs on sale in supermarkets in October and early November (the height of the UK apple season) were imported. Even after varieties which are not typically grown in the UK, Iceland was the only retailer selling 100% British apples.
“Recently, we’ve been getting messages on our social media channels from consumers saying they were struggling to find British apples. This concerned us and triggered this research,” explained Ali Capper, executive chair of British Apples & Pears Limited (BAPL). “It’s peak British apple season; the supermarket shelves should be full of our amazing new season British fruit. However, retailers don’t seem to be listening to what consumers want.
“Why are we importing so much fruit, with the associated food miles, when British apples are at their peak?”
Speaking at a food security event in early December, Minette Batters warned that the reduction was bad for food security. “This year there was a massive contraction for people not wanting to plant the orchards and ripping out old orchards because we wasted £60m worth of profit last year in the first six months of this year,” she said. “So, we’ve got to have a major reset if we are going to continue to grow this incredibly important sector and not have food shortages off the back of it.”
The Woodland Trust called on the Government to support farmers and growers who kept old orchards on their land. “We need to manage land better for nature, combining it with productive farming. Traditional orchards are a particularly important example of this, offering a mosaic of trees, grasses, shrubs and wildflowers which make them ideal for wildlife,” said Andrew Allen, policy lead for land use.
“Halting the long-term decline in the number of traditional orchards is a litmus test of the government’s new [environmental land management] ELM scheme… Farmers need to see the economic benefit of keeping those trees. If they are facing soaring labour costs, energy costs, it is very difficult to keep them. Government needs to incentivise farmers to keep their orchards in these hard times or they will be lost. Farmers are currently making business choices. Because of the uncertainty within the marketplace and the supply chain, they are intensifying their farming system to get as much commodity out of the production.”