A UK glasshouse grower is calling for government support to ensure the country can grow more of its own food.
Tomato producers, The Green House Growers, have said recent shortages of salad crops, caused by unseasonably cold winters in Morocco and Spain, could have been avoided if they were grown in the UK.
The business, which has sites in Ely and Norwich, said there was scope for more local production, according to a BBC report. It wants help to become more sustainable and with energy costs. This winter, high energy prices led some greenhouse farmers in the UK and the Netherlands to cut production.
The Lea Valley Growers Association – which produces about three-quarters of the UK’s cucumber and pepper crops – delayed planting due to high energy costs.
During the winter, the UK imports about 95% of its tomatoes and 90% of lettuces. Most of them come in from Spain and north Africa, according to trade group the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
“There’s still a lot of opportunity because in the UK we only produce 20% of British tomatoes consumed, so there’s plenty of scope for more production,” said Richard Diplock, Managing Director of Green House Growers.
“And cucumbers is probably even less, in terms of British cucumbers in the market, because British consumers eat 660m cues a year, approximately,” he added.
Mr Diplock said serious debate was needed around the tough challenges facing the industry.
“We’ve now seen a war, we have an energy crisis and of course, we’ve seen climatic change, so for British growers this is a great opportunity to produce more in the UK. We need more support from the government. They’ve set out a food strategy bill last year but set themselves no targets,” he added.
Cutting dependence on imports, reducing carbon emissions at site and in transit, and future proofing supply are just some of the benefits of growing food in the UK, which are some of the aims the government said it was trying to achieve, said the BBC report.
But Prof Aled Jones, director of the Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin University said: “The UK currently does not have a definition around food security and government strategy is aimed at building resilience through all possible routes with no preference for sourcing.
“So if the UK wants to be more self-reliant on food then it is very true we need to grow more – around half our food is imported at the moment. If we want the food to be cheap, then it does need subsidising.”