Source: British Apples & Pears

The growers group carried out a survey of its members and found that 150,000 new apple and pear trees have been cancelled this season

One third of new apple trees have not been planted by growers due to soaring production costs, British Apples & Pears has revealed.

The grower body carried out a survey of its members, who represent 80% of the British topfruit industry, and found that 150,000 new apple and pear trees have been cancelled for this season.

The intention from growers had been to invest in the long-term future orchards by planting 480,000 new trees, BAP said. However, one third of those orders had now been cancelled.

BAP executive chair Ali Capper attributed the move to unsustainable supermarket returns. She explained input costs had risen by 23% over the past year, which had been “met with almost static average fruit prices paid by retailers”.

Capper had first warned that growers were reducing plantings at the end of last year, when she told The Grocer low returns were “endemic” across fresh produce, while the relationship between growers and retailers had in many cases deteriorated.

BAP members had reported receiving an average 0.8% year-on-year increase in what supermarkets paid them for their fruit, despite an independent report by Andersons Consulting recommending they should receive a minimum 12% increase in returns.

“This is the clearest indication yet that the future of apple and pear growing in the UK is seriously in doubt,” said Capper. “The industry is on a knife edge.”

“Without long-term investment and new tree planting, orchards will quickly go into decline,” she added. “That’s not something any of us wants, least of all the British consumer.”

Apple and pear producers expressed concern about the future of current orchards in anonymous comments left on the BAP survey.

Tesco chairman faces backlash after accusing suppliers of cost of living ‘profiteering’

One said: “We have pruned them [fruit trees], but unless something miraculous happens, we shall … mothball the orchards whilst we decide their eventual fate.”

Meanwhile another said without “increase in net price” they may get to “a point where [we] cannot carry on”.

It comes as Tesco chairman John Allan said on the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg yesterday that it was “entirely possible” food producers were taking advantage of the poorest in society.

Tesco had “fallen out” with “a number of suppliers” after “robust” discussions over price hikes that the supermarket had challenged, he said.

These comments were criticised by NFU president Minette Batters, who said on the BBC’s Wake Up to Money podcast that it was like he “was living in a parallel universe” as costs had been “absolutely unprecedented” and “dwarfed any price increases to date”.

BAP has asked that retailers reset returns, invest in long-term partnerships, prioritise British apples and pears over imports, and work with growers to reinvigorate the category in-store and online.

In December, The Grocer reported that only half of apple packs in major UK supermarkets were British in the peak of British apple season.

The growers group has also asked for support from the government such as removing the limit on seasonal worker numbers, removing the wage premium linked to the Seasonal Worker scheme, adding grower businesses to the Energy Business Relief scheme vulnerable list, and supporting the development of renewables.

This was echoed by an NFU spokesman who said, “We need the primary production of energy intensive crops to be recognised under the Energy and Trade Intensive Industries scheme; longer term certainty on the seasonal worker scheme; and a greater level of investment into the sector to drive productivity”.

BAP has also called on consumers to buy British and support British growers.

“We must act now,” said Capper. “This is not just about the apple and pear growers, the future of UK food security, biodiversity and our nation’s health are at stake.”

Thousands of firms to go bust without energy bailout rethink


Have your say

The Grocer wants to hear from you about this article and the topics raised in it. If you would like to submit your opinion to be considered for publication in our letters section, get in touch at youropinion@thegrocer.co.uk