Strawberries in punnets

Source: Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

The industry body said the sector faced significant challenges which were threatening its viability

British Berry Growers has launched a new Campaign & Policy Board to advocate for the berry industry’s needs.

The industry body, which represents 95% of the UK’s commercial soft fruit growers, said the sector faced significant challenges which threatened its viability. The new board was designed to advocate for the future of the sector, it added.

The board has published a six-point policy plan calling for action across key areas including the extension of the Seasonal Worker scheme’s duration from six to nine months and the creation of a national planning framework for controlled growing environments.

The plan also includes calls to create a thriving British berry industry via a better relationship with retailers and a simpler way to export British berries overseas.

“The value of UK berry production per year is an estimated £800 million at farm gate and accounts for approximately 33,000 jobs across the country,” said BBG chairman Nick Marston. 

A recent independent study by consultancy Andersons Midlands found that two-thirds of British berry growers are not confident in the future of their businesses – with many scaling back future investment plans as a result.

The new board aims to address the underlying causes of this lack of confidence including rising input costs, lack of certainty around long-term labour supply, a lack of government support for research & development and competition from abroad.

The board will be chaired by Anthea McIntyre, a former member of the European Parliament who served on the Agriculture & Rural Development Committee, specialising in horticulture and authoring several reports.

Growers are struggling with low returns and ever-increasing costs, especially labour costs,” said McIntyre. “We must act now to see continued success. The industry is currently on a knife edge, but with the support of government and policymakers we can secure a brighter future for British berries.”  

It will also include a selection of major berry growers from across the UK: Tim Barnes (Dole), Tim Chambers (WB Chambers), John Chinn (Cobrey Farms), Angus Davison (Berry Gardens Growers Ltd), Jim Floor (Hall Hunter), Peter Judge (S&A Group), and Lochy Porter (Angus Soft Fruits).

It comes as the grower group has requested fairer returns from retailers following a 9.8% national living wage increase.

Labour costs account for 50%-60% of the cost of producing a punnet of berries and the organisation has said growers will need at least a 5% increase in the price they are paid per punnet just to cover the latest wage increase.

“The whole future of the UK industry is under threat,” said Marston. “We’re urging supermarkets to do the right thing and build in an allowance for this cost of production increase into contracts for 2024.”