British growers are losing out to foreign competition, despite a few shining examples of international success, according to the English Farming and Food Partnership.

G's Growers, KG Growers and Worldwide Fruit may be role models for the industry, but decline is still taking place on an alarming scale, EFFP chief exec Sion Roberts told his annual conference.

Food imports are continuing to increase, particularly on vegetables, mushrooms and tomatoes. "Much of the growth in food market has been in value and not volume, and that value is being largely added and almost completely captured downstream from the farm gate," he said.

Farmers must become increasingly involved in this process if they want to share in its rewards. Roberts said the only solution was to integrate farming into supply chains in a way that had not been seen before.

Contraction through global competition is continuing to be felt in sectors which have so far made a success of the co-operative route. "The game is just beginning" said Hans van Es, director of the Dutch Produce Association which represents 92% of the country's growing organisations.

As grower-owned businesses and co-operatives become larger and more diverse in order to serve international multiples they will move onto a collision course with the giant privately owned produce distribution companies who source the same product and have the same objectives.

Dutch co-op The Greenery once represented 9,500 salad growers, but has seen that number shrink to 1,600, van Es said.

That will soon have to fall further to about 1,000 growers with larger glasshouses. In the future, they will trade surplus energy to keep costs down and remain competitive.